taking the passive out of passive-aggressive

Friday, November 26, 2004

I smoke, and occaisionally, I'll admit it, I even smoke when my children are present. I mean, I don't blow it in their faces or anything, but if we're outside and the older one is playing and the younger one is upwind, yeah, I'll have a nice cigarette.

I know that this makes me a horrible person, unfit for motherhood. I realize that pretty much everything I do, actually, puts me in complete opposition to the prevailing norms of American Mommyness. I dress too young, my hair is too long, I cuss too much, and drink coffee, full-strength, all day long. I don't regard my children as miracle angels, I didn't breastfeed, I hated pregnancy, and my car is a mess. And worst of all? Sometimes I tell my family that I need to be alone. For a few hours, even.

Now, I know a lot of other mothers, and I know that they don't fit into the Good Mommy stereotype any more than I do. But for some reason I still manage to feel guilty about this. The cultural stereotype of perfect momhood is so pervasive, so overwhelming, and the stakes are so high (I mean, your children are on the line!) that it's impossible to ignore how far short I'm falling.

It also seems like this particular vision of good motherhood is somewhat new. Sure, mothers have always been punished by the culture and wracked with guilt (see Freud, Donna Reed, the Victorians), but it's always in really era-specific ways, because mothers are always forced to the front lines of society's battle with its anxiety.

These days, it seems like it's all about being a good little puritan. A red-state mom. A "moral values" mom. Or else, if you're a lefty? It's all about doing what's "natural" and giving your children the proper "attachment"--which is also like being a puritan, only you punish your calvinist self with a vegan diet instead. Either way, it adds up to the same thing: relinquish yourself, and enjoy it, and then behave in a self-righteous way for the next 18 years or so.

We're expected, upon peeing on the stick and getting two pink lines, to suddenly transform ourselves into shining happy glowing Women, with a capital W, who are suddenly in thrall to biology--and thrilled with the prospect. And once you push the little critter out (after hours of tortuous and somewhat embarassing labor), you must immediately BOND. Bond, dammit, bond! Be a milk cow for two years--hey, even if you work, you can pump, right? They developed that technology on the dairy farm for a reason! Sleep in the same bed with your kids! Get your hair cut! Buy something shapeless to wear!

The next 18 years are more of the same. What, your kid isn't in soccer? Gymnastics? Piano? How dare you deprive her? What do you mean, you work 50 hours a week? Who doesn't? You still have to spend your saturdays making sure your children are being stimulated! What do you mean, you like to sleep late on Sundays? You don't go to CHURCH? Oh, don't tell me you actually like a cocktail! One drink and I'm passed out! Oh, I prefer herbal tea! My baby's watching language videos, why isn't yours? You mean you don't do playgroups? Mommy and Me? Baby Gym? Yoga Kids? You're kidding!

I guess I have to tell myself that this is society doing this to women, but you know, the more I write and think about it, the more I'm convinced that it really is just me--alienated, bitter, cynical me. That somehow these women have either swallowed the kool-aid, or else I really am deficient. The insidious part is, I can't tell the difference. And that's pretty scary.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

When I'm fighting with my husband, I sometimes ask him, "Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy?" For both of us, the answer is so transparently obvious that asking the question is merely a rhetorical reminder. Of COURSE we'd rather be happy than right. Who wouldn't? The fight is defused, we surrender our hard-won, bitterly-fought-over territory, and move on.

It's only been recently that I've realized that the answer to that question, for most people, isn't "happy." Most people would actually rather be right.

I suspect that those of us who would rather be happy--we're the ones who think "this is it, this is my only chance to live this life." We're the ones who aren't convinced you get another go-round.

And the people who want to be right? They're waiting for some kind of reward. They're the type that saves up their whole lives for a retirement fantasy (golf, card games, cocktails at lunch) that may never happen. They believe that the goal is more important than the process. And they're convinced--absolutely convinced--that eternal life is an actual possibility. As though if they just follow their script, do what they're supposed to, then some big higher power is going to reward them for their ability to suffer for 76 years, to sublimate their true desires.

The right vs. happy split probably echoes a lot of other cultural divides in this country: red vs. blue, religious vs. non-religious, urban vs. suburban and rural. And it's fundamental: just as I cannot imagine why anyone would rather be right than happy, the other side can't imagine why I'd rather be happy than right.

I've decided to live my life by this principle, though, even though I'm beginning to realize that most people don't agree with it. I suspect it will be less difficult than if I chose the other way around. Because, you know, it's clear when I'm happy; it's not so easy to tell when I'm right.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

During a recent game of Go Fish with my daughter, we came across a pair of jokers in our deck of cards and discarded them. I left them on the basement floor until tonight, when the joker struck me as suddenly very odd. This particular Joker--and I know there are many varieties--is depicted as a king riding a bicycle, with a rock (a tombstone? a road marker?) behind him that says "808." And in the corners, what looks like a dollar sign turns out to be the letters "US", superimposed.

My internet research (faulty and flighty at best) tell me that my deck of cards is from the Bicycle Playing Card Company, now the United States Playing Card Company (or is it the other way around?) And it's an 808 series deck. All very self -explanatory--the Joker must simply be a promotional card, another advertisement. It all makes sense, really, even the played-out "fool-as-king" trope.

And yet--the Joker is sticking with me.

Lookit, I hate cheap symbolism, that new-age ability to turn everything into meaning until everything is meaningless. But at the same time, I suspect that this Joker is telling me something. The card is a depiction of a certain reality, and maybe when you're experiencing that particular reality, all of its symbols come and haunt you. The joker--his truth-to-power idiocy, his utter disregard of consequences, his trump-card bicycle-riding self--has something to say to me right now. I just don't know what it is.

Anyway, taking life direction from playing cards is, at best, stupid. But what the hell else can you take direction from? Your own flawed brain, so overcome by its own biology? Your body--most certainly not! Most of us, I suspect, end up taking direction from some arcane and unwritten Book of Rules anyway--a mishmash of society's expectations, your parents, your children, your desire, and your job. Playing cards can't be any worse of a guide.

I started my new job on Monday, and boy is it exactly like my old job. Well, I mean, people don't have group lunches where they talk about poop and porn, and I didn't catch anyone drinking at 10am yet. But the duties I perform are the same: making sure that the world's less-glamorous advertising, brochures, and web sites happen on time, and on budget, and with some modicum of good design and content.

Everyone is on their best office behavior so far--in fact, a lot of them are new, too--but I'm getting hints about all of them. My officemate hints that she likes to go out and drink. My boss hints that she's a liberal. The print production woman hints that she's had an interesting past. The computer guy... he hints that somehow he knows me. I only say this because when I got my computer, my password was the name of a company I worked for many years ago, which is odd. Did he pick it off my resume? Why would he have even seen my resume? And he used to work for a company we subcontracted for. If he knew me from then, I'm embarassed--my skirts were always so inappropriately short back then.

I had forgotten how entertaining office life can actually be. What I like about it is that everyone's going around pretending they're a Professional Person when actually, everyone harbors secrets, antipathies, bad habits, hidden desires, weird hobbies, and secret obsessions.

Wait a minute, that was also what I used to hate about it.

Amazing what a year off can do for you. Especially if you spend that whole year tending to children. Officemates and clients, as demanding as they are, simply can't compete in the annoying department. They don't run around singing tunelessly at the top of their lungs, poop in their pants, demand snacks (but not THAT snack!), refuse to go to bed, walk in on you in the bathroom, stick electrical plugs in their mouths, or climb on you as though you were a mountain, immobile and unfeeling.

Well, most of the time, anyway.

Monday, November 15, 2004

I start my new job today, which should be interesting, considering that in my most recent job, I worked for a tiny, tyrannical boss (and one slightly larger, less tyrannical boss), in a menial position that seemed to involve mostly cleaning up poop. In this new job, I don't think they will ask me to do that. At least I hope. Of course, advertising account work and mommyhood aren't all that different. Your clients cry and whine, require special attention when they get boo-boos, and are often hungry, so you must feed them on an expense account.

I'm strangely un-nervous, perhaps because I'm so excited to leave the house. The very idea of getting up every day and putting on an actual skirt and actual lipstick is almost too good to believe. I'm sure it will wear thin after a while, but for now, hooray!

Thursday, November 11, 2004

To my five loyal readers,

I have to confess: I am now officially a hypocrite. Here it is, in pixels, for all posterity (or at least til Blogger shuts down someday). Outside of my house sits a brand new Honda CR-V.

Yes, you can call it a "glorified hatchback", as some have done to make me feel better. You can say it's more like a car. But I know what it is. I know what the brochure said. It said:


Granted, it is not an Escalade, and Envoy, a Hummer (what is UP with that name?) or even a Ford Explorer. Yes, it gets as good gas mileage as my VW. But it has all the earmarks of suburban evil: the tire on the back, the tallness, the cup holders.

In my defense, this was not entirely my decision. When the Jetta died on the side of the road, we realized something had to be done. The two children and their stuff were crowded in the back. We couldn't even get groceries any more with them in the car. I said, "Let's get a station wagon!" but the husband didn't like that idea. Then, even more to my chagrin and horror, I found myself tentatively suggesting.... a minivan.

Well, the very mention of that word sent him into an apopleptic fit. "A WHAT? Do you REMEMBER what you said in 1992? For the love of GOD I am not driving around in a MINIVAN" or something to that effect. I backed down immediately. No minivan, no, no, of course not, we can't do that.

So off to Consumer Reports we went, looking for "family cars." Husband immediately fell in love with the Element. This is a car designed to appeal to men of a certain creative type: it can be hosed out! you can haul dogs and pieces of wood! it looks cool! it's part plastic! it's tall but no one cn say it's an SUV! how cool!

Well, we went and drove it and it turns out that to open the back doors and get the children out, you have to also open the front doors. I was picturing myself trying to open all my car doors at once while being parked in by two giant Escalades or Hummers. Not possible. I said, gently, "can we try the CR-V?"

And we tried it. And we liked it. Oh, the shame, the shame. Yes, I like the cupholders! I like sitting up high so I can see over the SUV in front of me! I like tha my child is not kicking me in the lumbar region during the entire ride!

Oh, my humiliation is complete. I have surrendered to the devil. I understand that. My only redemption will lie in hundreds of lefty radical bumper stickers plastered to the back, so that everyone knows I tried, goddamit, I really tried to fight the good fight... and I lost.

Next week: stay tuned for my purchase of a gun rack, attendance at a mega-church, and a whole new wardrobe that involves khaki pants and sweater sets.

Kidding.... I hope.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Everything that needed to be said about this election has already been said, by people smarter and more articulate than I. But I'm still going to give it a shot. Here are some tips I think might help my fellow lefties as we look for a way to take action.

1. I am not letting anyone with a Republican bumper sticker on their car cut in front of me in traffic. Today I did this and I felt evil and good at the same time. This woman tried to edge in when her lane ended--I kept moving forward to cut her off-- and she looked right at me as if to say "can I cut in?" and I shook my head and mouthed "nooo" to her. She looked absolutely horrified. She couldn't believe it. When she finally got behind me, she honked her horn at me. I would have given her the finger but the kids were in the car. Not that I was setting a great example, or anything, but still.

2. Obama/O'Malley '08! Come on, we need some hotties. An all-hottie ticket would secure the gay man and woman vote, and besides, the O's have such a ring to them. I know they're young, but they can't be any stupider than W. Besides, they can appoint a lot of smartypants pointyheads to actually tell them what to do. We just need O'Malley to keep his hands to himself and everything will be just fine.

3. I think petty vandalism might actually be a viable activist tactic, a la PETA. What about bumper stickers you could past on SUV's in parking lots: "I Support Terrorists" or "Yes, I Am A Fucking Pig"? Or throwing eggs at your fascists neighbors' houses at night? Stink bombs! Cans of paint! The possibilities are endless. Just think back to your teenage years. This might actually help sway some frat boys to our movement, as well. Plus it would make you feel really good.

4. Sex as a recruiting tool. You know a lot of people in the sex industry are democrats. Why not use their ample talents to persuade people of our absolute correctness? I guess this doesn't help us on the "moral values" front, but c'mon, all those Bush voters are hypocrites.

5. Invade their churches! Whole flocks of progressives should start going to these evangelical churches in droves and slowly drive out their congregations by force of sheer numbers. If you got a hundred democrats in one of these places, you could work wonders simply by polemicizing and being annoying and persistent. They'd all try and avoid us but we'd get really involved and volunteer for everything. Think of the possibilities in Bible study groups alone. "Did Jesus really say he hated fags? Can you point that out here in the Good Book? Because you know I'm a fundamentalist, I need to see where it says that here in writing."

6. Bring back corrupt Democratic machine politics, a la Tammany Hall. Roll drunks to the polls. Register dead people. Baltimore used to be so good at this--it's really a shame we've forgotten how.

I'm sure I have other ideas, but these are a start. It's about time we started playing the game. This wussy liberal shit is just not going to work.