Uncomfortable Truths

The best, most vibrant comedy mines the depth of uncomfortable truths. I first discovered Louis CK’s standup a few years ago, and the bit that got me was about what an asshole his four year-old daughter was.

CK taught me not only that my frustrations with parenting were common, but also that because of the fact that they could be tapped for great art, they were that ambiguous stuff that makes life, you know, life. Any respectable parent feels terrible when negative thoughts cross their mind about their children. But any honest parent will admit having them. That’s why I both cringe and kind of get it when Louis CK quips “I love that kid to pieces. But I wish she was never born.” Of course he doesn’t think that all of the time… but there are moments when thoughts of which we’re not proud creep uncomfortably into our minds. It’s part of the human condition; why not talk about it? Better yet, why not joke about it?

Adam Mansbach’s book “Go the F-ck to Sleep” taps into that same feeling by playfully articulating the redundant, exhausting, and endlessly unproductive processes that parenting requires. Deploying verboten language when discussing something so truly precious as our kids provides necessary release from the quotidian torture all parents endure. Bill Cosby’s bits about parenting, which led to his sitcom in the 1980s, were funny in an observational and performative way. But Cosby’s routines are ultimately less satisfying because they construct family life as chaotic yet still under control, parents as harried but ultimately capable and on top of things even though kids say the darndest things. Now that I’m a seasoned parent, Cosby’s stuff feels less true. Balancing parenting, work, bills, marriage, life, and still maintaining some inner-direction requires persisting and progressing despite constantly not being on top of things. Most of this is because parenting is so demanding. Being able to hold in my head both unconditional love for my children and the honest acceptance that they make my life worse even as they make it better required a maturation process I didn’t realize I’d have to go through when I first held my daughter.

Watching the evolution of CK’s career over the past few years suggests the moment where it’s therapeutic to vulgarly talk about your children is but a stage. As he told Emily Nussbaum of New York Magazine:

The mistake so many parents make, he tells me, is to go into mourning for the life they’ve lost. “All those early bits I did calling my kid an asshole came out of not knowing how to handle it. You distill those feelings in stand-up.” But as his children get older, he says, he’s become more confident about his role—something he wants to incorporate into the show. “They’re amazing now. It’s nice to be with them. It’s delightful. And you know, it also doesn’t last very long.”

I’ve started to see that kind of light in my future with my kids, even though the 2 year-old is a fledgling maniac and the 7 year-old is simply learning to be difficult in new ways. One particularly long trip home from an exhausting birthday party in Brooklyn a couple months ago sticks out. They were both worn down, over-sugared and tired, and either could have lapsed into assholicity quite easily. Our small car could have been turned for 90 minutes into a hurtling torture chamber. But instead the kids were quite pleasant, singing to each other and entertaining us, dozing off sweetly before we got home. The moment was a window into a future where we will be able to spend more time just being people together. We’ll often enjoy each others’ company, and have the ability to occupy ourselves when we don’t.

Of course, when we got home, both kids woke up, and took another hour to get the fuck back to sleep.

5 thoughts on “Uncomfortable Truths

  1. I cannot even imagine my parents being this open in discussing their parenting styles- if they even knew they had one. Kudos for the honesty of how hard it is, but like you describe, there are those rewards I bet you cling to.

    BTW, you can get Samuel L Jackson narrating Go the F**** to sleep for free n Audible.com http://www.audible.com/pd?asin=B00551W570 at least for now.

    1. Thanks for still reading me despite my lengthy time off of blogging. Yes, the rewards are great and sustained. The frustrations are incredibly intense, and ultimately fleeting.

  2. My wife and I laughed out loud when we found Go the F*ck to Sleep a couple of months ago. It is amazing to us that we manage to both work and not go crazy daily coming home often exhausted, confronted with our three and five year olds’ endless energy.

    There’s a quote from Bill Murray’s character in “Lost in Translation” (a movie we both loved and saw pre-kids) that makes more sense to us all the time. He describes how basically your life is over when have kids, but then as they get older, “they turn out to be the most delightful people you will meet in your life.”

    We think our kids are getting more interesting all the time and imagine we’ll even want to hang out with them at some point.

  3. I used to think that the worst myth I was told as a kid was that once you find your “one true love” you will live happily ever after. It took me years to work through the layers of falseness in that one — and to finally realize that relationships aren’t simply about madly dancing to a blissful conclusion but rather building and working and laughing and fighting and playing and weeping and growing.

    Then I became a parent and discovered a new myth that I had to disentagle: that to “win” at parenting you must always, unconditionally (irrationally) adore your children.

    In a way, the fact that both of these myths are present in my life is a testimony to how stable and loving and rather idyllic my childhood was. But, in the end, learning to understand that love and parenting are far, far more complicated was a long and often tremendously painful process.

    My oldest is five. From the moment she was born, it was like an organ had been ripped out of my body and was now beating and pulsing next to me (well, in a way, I guess that IS what happened). The love I had was all-encompassing and terrifying. Then I spent a couple of nights with a sleepless, screaming, horrible infant. Then it was less about all-encompassing love and more about wanting to punch a hole in the wall. Repeatedly.

    It took a while to realize that this was NORMAL. That everyone I knew could admit to feeling this way upon (sometimes frequent) occasions. I couldn’t believe it! What!? I was allowed to feel sorry for myself? I was allowed to be furious at this precious, innocent child?

    The first time my daughter told me she didn’t like me and I wasn’t her friend anymore, I thought my heart would break. Now when she says it (sometimes frequently), I think, “Awesome! I’m doing my job!”

    I’m adamant about talking about this stuff publicly — because I think we need to push back on these myths a lot more than we do. It’s okay to hate your kids now and then because, let’s face it, they can be pretty hateful! And the sooner you get on with it, the sooner you can get past it and get back to loving them.

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