S/he’s a Handful, You Wouldn’t Understand (An Explanatory Introduction)

(originally published Sunday, February 14, 2010)

From time to time since my first child was a toddler, people have suggested I write a blog about parenting. I dismissed the idea with a laugh and a “Yeah, right.” What would I possibly say? What right did I have to say it? What made me an authority? Couldn’t they just watch “Nanny 911”? Then another friend or stranger would make the same suggestion. For whatever reason, these folks thought I had some insight — at least on this particular topic. Still, I resisted.

Recently I’ve come across some interesting, informative, and just-plain-funny blogs. Whether intended as a forum for serious discussion (e.g. SHAMbook) or just for laughs (e.g. SleepTalkin’Man), these sites are more than the self-indulgent, never-ending “Christmas Letters” I’d envisioned whenever someone said they blogged. This was worthwhile, charming, erudite, fun!

But there was still the fear: That my own attempt would be awful and no one would read it, or it’d be fabulous but still, no one would read it. There’s also the not entirely ridiculous fear (OK, superstition) that spouting off on a topic sets you up for the worst sort of payback. How very amusing for those fueled by schadenfreude to watch (nishtu gedacht*) my kids crash and burn come adolescence. Ah, yes. Always a possibility, albeit remote. But most of all, the fear that people will read it, and will hate me.

You see, what I’m planning to write about is a touchy subject — one that people get bent out of shape about. Namely, their kids. OK, maybe not your kids. But those kids. The ones we encounter, to our dismay, wherever we go — the mall, playground, restaurant, theater, play-date, dinner party, get-together — and wish their parents had left them home. You know the ones. Those kids.

But of course, the kids aren’t to blame. It’s not their fault they are insufferable, obnoxious, and unfit for human company. Nope… it’s all about the parents. The parents who are visibly annoyed, even angered, not by the child who’s fallen, kicking and screaming his demands, to the check-out line floor, but by my refusal to wink in solidarity and tacit approval.

I’m nervous because every experience indicates that those parents do not want to hear that it’s their fault, and that with a little work, it can change. Over and over I’ve heard variations on the phrase, “S/he’s a handful, you wouldn’t understand.” Same thing, every time. As if my kids fell gently from the womb on a cloud of magic fairy dust — quiet, well-mannered, obedient, tidy, and snot-free. Uh huh. Right.

Yet, somehow they did manage to get to that magical place. Not 100% of the time, but at least enough of the time that people notice, and comment. They tell me I’m “lucky” to have such “good” kids (as if theirs are inherently “bad”), such “easy” kids (as if I didn’t do a darned thing to create that illusion), such “sweet” kids (as if mine don’t try to talk back, ignore me, whine, or say ‘no’).

None of those parents of “difficult” children, who tell me how “easy” mine are and how “lucky” I am, ever stops to think that perhaps they aren’t giving their own child much credit, aren’t holding up their end of the parent-child bargain, aren’t taking the rest of society into consideration, and aren’t really paying me a compliment.

And none of those parents ever wants to hear why our situations appear to be so different. No, it’s all about “luck.” I have “good” kids, they don’t. Nothing I say could possibly make a difference.

But maybe they’ll read this blog and come to believe otherwise. We’ll see.

*Yiddish: It shouldn’t happen.