So here’s a list of the people I’ve argued with in the past two days:
- Bill Maher.
- Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.
- About half a dozen people on Facebook. (Double extra embarrassing: it was in the comments section of someone else’s status update.)
- My wife.
- My mom.
All this resulted in
- One very polite if not terribly satisfying email from someone kind of famous.
- Some crying.
- A fairly icy silence on Facebook.
- Everyone agreeing with me and resolving to do things my way from now on.
One of those may not be true.
Elana and I have recently noticed — perhaps because parenthood is so ferociously bearing down upon us now — that of everyone in a given person’s life, it’s the mom who tends to take the greatest amount of abuse. We’ve both found that while we’re generally graceful people — polite to strangers, kind to animals, respectful of clergy — in our most stressful hours we are somehow unable to avoid being mean to our moms.
Partly this is because your mom knows you better than anybody — but she knows the you from twenty years ago. So there’s this ultra-familiarity that’s always being confounded by a mild but constant alienation. It’s a weird, frustrating experience.
I sort of thought when I was twenty-three that when you got to know your parents as adults, that would be the end of it — that they would kind of be these cool older friends that you could hang out with, people who knew stuff like the defining characteristics of pumpernickel bread and how to rent a car. But of course they remember EVERYTHING about your childhood and youth, including all the things you’ve tried to shed as you move into adulthood, and so there’s this constant renegotiation about what’s relevant anymore, until finally you’re this tall, shaggy, cynical 35-year-old who bears no resemblance whatsoever to the kid they raised. Except in their eyes you’re still that kid.
Also, moms tend to be more emotionally invested than dads — by no means universally, but come on:
So at the point in a conversation where a normal friend (and many dads) would decide, “Man, you’re kind of a jerk today; I’d better hang up and talk to you tomorrow” — and I’m pretty sure everybody has these conversations sooner or later — a mom will often (bravely but quixotically) continue to talk for several more minutes, trying to cheer you up or get some basic information about what’s going on or just trying to get a civil word out of you. It’s hard for moms to abandon the conversational ship.
Of course, when you’re being a jerk to your friend or your dad, you realize it right away, and you say things like, “Sorry — I’m not really up for a talk today.” But when it’s your mom, some little part of your brain is still sulking in its room, listening to the Doors and staring at blacklight posters and hoping that if it’s just monosyllabic and unresponsive long enough that this TERRIBLE OPPRESSOR will GO AWAY. And there’s another little part of your brain that is aware that your mom will never actually go away — just upstairs — and so you can pretty much get away with saying whatever you want. And so you are mean to your mom.
I wish I had realized this before getting someone pregnant. I feel like I’ve doomed Elana to thirty-plus years of putting up with rude people — and not just rude people, but rude people who got to freeload in her uterus for nine months! I suppose they’ll get it, eventually, like we’re getting it now, and maybe they’ll be a little nicer to her. But between now and that glorious day? Several decades of Jon-Stewart-on-Crossfire-level sarcasm and disdain:
Anyway, by way of trying to make it up to mothers, here are three fun things I think my mom might like.
First, because this reminds me of things we used to enjoy together when I was little, here’s a video from They Might Be Giants’ new album for kids, Here Comes Science:
Second, here’s a site I’ve been meaning to share with my mom for a while: Cooking For Engineers. It’s a perfect blend of our family’s two great passions: cooking and dorkery. (“Using an in-drawer knife tray can protect your knife and help you organize them too. I have two problems with knife trays. First, they consume a fair amount of precious drawer space, and, second, I can’t seem to find a tray that can handle the different knife shapes (and brands) that I have. There’s always one or two knives that just don’t fit properly. So, I’ve taken to using knife covers and placing the knives in a drawer organizer tray.”) Also, each recipe is accompanied by a diagram showing the stages of deployment of various ingredients — it’s fairly awesome.
Finally, because I figure moms can use a laugh, here’s one of my favorite internet videos. I had thought it lost after it disappeared from the creator’s website, but of course, nothing is lost forever, not on Magical Time-Traveling YouTube, and Alex Epstein posted it on his blog today, so here it is.