Oh, Katie Roiphe. I have to admit that I’ve been more than a little fed up with the phenom that is Go the F to Sleep. Call it jealousy; maybe I wish I had written a book with less than 500 words that skyrocketed to the best seller list before it even came out. Or that inspired Samuel Jackson to narrate the audio version. So, yes, I was excited to see Roiphe of “there is no such thing as date rape” infamy, take on the book in a column on Slate.
And I was really with her at first. She goes right to the heart of things, pointing out that behind the one-line joke of this book is “nastiness” and “an undercurrent of resentment that is comic, or ‘cathartic.’” The book, as she sees it, is an indictment of modern parenthood, what she would consider over-parenting and I would say is called actually taking care of your own children, at least on the weekends and at nights when you aren’t working.
Behind the sing-songy text and dream like pictures of tigers and pajama-clad toddlers, readers of Go the F to Sleep can peak in the background and see tired parents who are just trying to watch some television. And I get it, in some ways that’s really kind of pathetic, right? Roiphe writes:
The book, in all its cleverness and artfulness and ingenuity, raises certain other questions: Are they having sex, these slouchy rageful parents? Not enough, perhaps. When the father turns back to the waking child’s bedroom, we look out at the comfy, sexless, vaguely depressive scene of his wife sprawled asleep on the couch under an ugly old blanket. No wonder the slouchy dad is full of rage.
No wonder all those slouchy dads and moms who just want to watch a movie and eat some microwave popcorn find this book so funny, so transporting; no wonder it makes them feel, as the publicity materials suggest, “less alone.” But if those sweet-faced children, so gorgeously drawn by Ricardo Cortés, could talk back would they say: “Put on a fucking dress. Have a fucking drink. Stop hovering over us. Live your own goddamned life.
Ouch. Ok, that hurts. And maybe not just because finding the time to watch Mad Men with my husband on the couch seems like a luxury, but because I actually sleep on that couch. We share a 650-square foot apartment with our daughter and since she has the earlier bedtime, she gets the bedroom. Oh I know, Katie’s eyes must be rolling at that.
I’m a total sucker, right?
Moving on. Roiphe imagines that my kid is thinking “Stop hovering? Let me live my own goddamned life?” Hmm, that’s funny. Because she really doesn’t seem all that pleased when both her parents have to go off to work everyday. Or that she spends more time with babysitters than she does with us (unless of course you include the time at night that she crawls into our bed). Again, Roiphe must think I’m such a wus for letting her in when we should be having sex all night long.
(That sounds great. Sign me up!)
Seriously though, I do think there are a few problems with her analysis.
I know all about helicopter parents. Those are the ones in Park Slope that obsess over their child’s every bowel movement and verbal development. Now, I’m no helicopter parent. (Remember, I hardly see my kid.) But I’d say that even for us parents who aren’t totally over-obsessed with our children, parenting is still REALLY HARD. And that’s why we need a sense of humor.
She brings up Freud who said that sometimes we use humor to mask our feelings about things that are too taboo to express otherwise. And yeah, I totally get that. As the mother of a newborn, there were moments when I thought: “What the hell have I done?” and “What would happen if I just put the kid out on the fire escape for 30 minutes so I could take a nap and maybe read a book?”
I’m guessing that Roiphe had a moment or two similar to that.
In an interview with The Sunday Times a few years back she says that after a year of maternity leave (oh, a year would be nice!) she was afraid she would start losing her mind. The drudgery of house work and making dinner and talking about making baby food was too much for her.
The problem is that there is no way for parents to express those feelings of frustration and rage of suddenly having your life taken over by a screaming squirmy child that can’t even talk or read books in a way that’s socially acceptable. So, yes. Go the F to Sleep is really funny because it expresses that drudgery and frustration of parenthood–that very thing that is supposed to be so precious and beautiful, but is also filled with snot and poop and crushing fear.
So just to summarize here, parenthood is really hard. But as with most things that are difficult, it’s also pretty awesome and rewarding. And it’s so much better when you can commiserate.
For those of you aren’t familiar with Roiphe, she’s an author and academic who enjoys taking the counter-intuitive position. Her latest book though is about literary couples in 1920s London. And she says that some of them sent their kids off to boarding school when they were as young as 4. And others let their children churn about in the chaos of their bohemian lives. And they all turned out totally fine! Perhaps Roiphe thinks that instead of worrying about preschool (God, that’s so Park Slope of me!) I should be looking at Choate
While we’re at it, allow me (another) moment of cattiness. Roiphe attended Brearley, Harvard, and Princeton and I’m guessing that most of her pals there weren’t exactly hurting for cash. So donning gowns and baubles (or whatever it is that the kids there wear) and heading out for a night of frolicking and f-ing could be done whenever they like. Not so much for the rest of us. We get out when we can, but there are nights that all we can afford to do is plop down on the couch. In sweatpants. (Though never relaxed jeans, ewwwww.)
Oh, also, to paraphrase, I think it was Freud who also said that sometimes a book is just a book.