Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Fiction is better, Part IV

Motherlode, the NYT's not-so-gender-neutrally-named parenting blog (but hey, it's honest), posted an essay by a woman whose approach to substance-use-and-abuse and parenting much resembled that of a different author's approach to birth control. As in, this poor woman seems to be doing, and have done, virtually everything wrong. Ah, but "wrong" is so judgmental. What's a better term - ill-advisedly?

The mother reacted to her son's pot use in eighth grade by drug-testing him on a regular basis. (Parental overshare? Kind of - we have her real name - but the son's now technically of age.) She believed - against all evidence, including her own son spelling this out - that her son's high school friends consumed no substances whatsoever. Except she must not have believed this, what with the drug testing. Nothing quite adds up.

Her approach - and an ex-husband's cocaine addiction (the boy's father?) could well enter into this - is rather black-and-white. Either a child is 'good' and squeaky-clean, or 'bad' and strung out on absolutely everything. Which is... I've heard of this sort of attitude, but it's foreign to my own experience. I went to high school with lots of immigrants/children of immigrants, and there was no sense that being an A student and good kid was incompatible with, at the very least, consumption of alcohol and tobacco. Underage, sure, but try explaining this to someone who just arrived from Belarus.

Anyway, the mother here agrees to let her son - now 18 - host a party in their house. To say that she doesn't entirely trust him might be an understatement:

The Facebook invitations stated in capital letters, “No drugs, no alcohol.” I hired security guards to search bags and patrol the grounds. I posted “no smoking” signs and photos comparing pink, healthy lungs with blackened, petrified lungs. I placed a few car-crash pictures on tables to highlight the fallacy of invincibility.
She... what? I can understand (and would support) not allowing smoking inside a house, but with a bunch of teenagers who aren't even your children, eh, it's kind of up to them what they do when not in your house. But more to the point, this just sounds more haunted-house/after-school special than party decor. Morbid, inappropriate, and just weird.

As the essay's title had already revealed, all these measures did nothing whatsoever to prevent this from turning into a rager - the sort of rager that kind of does require a house with "grounds." The lesson this mother says she learns - that one should not host a party for teenagers - suggests she's perhaps missed the point.

As one might imagine, the comments are soon bursting with what was this woman doing? reactions. Also following the script, the mother responds - in the comments, alas:
I wrote this essay hoping (again naively?) that other parents would learn from my mistakes. I expected, and deserved, harsh judgment about the party, but I did not expect to be personally attacked on the subject of my parenting. The commenters make sweeping judgments based on a thin 800 word image of me and my son.
On the one hand, how on earth wasn't she expecting this outcome? On the other, it does sting when people say nasty things about you on the internet, even if you did kind of open yourself up to it. Might it have stung less if the author had at least chosen a pseudonym? Might it have been less about the honor of her family at stake? Could be.


Petey said...

"Might it have stung less if the author had at least chosen a pseudonym?"

The problem here, of course, is that the NYTimes ain't going to print anything under the byline of a pseudonym.

But, in general, yes. Pseudonymity would indeed be the cure for "fictionalizing" overshared personal experience writing for a wide audience. It just isn't really accepted by mainstream publications at the present moment.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Motherlode has had anonymous authors. And the pseudonyms run wild in the comments, without anyone doubting that, say, Jim in Omaha really is the father of the children he's describing. It could happen, but indeed, it hasn't yet.

Petey said...

"Motherlode has had anonymous authors."

I learn something new every day.

Looks like we have a viable solution.

caryatis said...

Does she realize her son will be leaving home soon and doing whatever he wants? If she's so hardline against drug use, why does she allow the son to associate with drug users?

It's kind of frustrating to get so little of the story...I wonder whether part of what comes off of judgmental-ness is really curiosity.