So there was this one article in some newspaper about "mommy blogs" (and here I'm scrunching my fingers in the air in the recognized gesture for mildly irritated quotation marks). And this article has been pretty much taken out behind the dumpster and worked over by all and sundry. And anyway, I realize that I am not possessed of sufficient analytic tools to unpack all the nuances behind the reasons one might produce a parental blog.
But maybe the parental diary-blog genre has stitched itself together out of odd bits taken from the essay, from the personal notebook, and even the college humor magazine. The critical public then files past this feejee mermaid of a form and sets up its cries of "Humbug! Priveleged middle-class self-absorbtion!"
And the author of the parental blog is all like, whuh? I'm sitting here at the end of a couple of decades of social change, where due to the mobility of American society and a bunch of the economic choices with which we have been presented, many in my peer group have waited until we hit our mid-thirties before we have our first kids? [Question mark here included to impart a sense of that verbal upspeak which implies mild incredulity.] And as is so often remarked, many of us parents generally do not have extended families around to help us raise our kids? So when I began as a parent, I felt a little isolated and uncomfortable with these feelings of isolation? And so maybe I bang these entries out in the twenty minutes or half-hour I have before I go to bed -- in part to remind myself of where I have been, and in part to find others who might express some recognition of a common experience.
And then the popular media gets all up in our collective grill. Or a thoughtful reader will take issue with the form (as practiced by the writers profiled in the NYT piece) as partaking of,
Bombeck- (or, for the more literary, Annie Lamott)-style humor and Constant Coinage (how many words have you made up today?)—the ABCs, perhaps, of 'mommy blogging'—but also staples of mainstream American essay writing these days.
Which, fine -- hyperbole, burlesque, comic understatement, verbal or social incongruity, etc., often become stylistic or formal ticks in the blog-diary form. In part these verbal strategies mirror the daily flux of parental experience (i.e., daughter L. and I devote a substantial portion of each day to negotiating a better understanding of the tricky relationship between human desire and societal obligation, perhaps the most reliably frustrating and hilarious incongruity of them all). But also I think that stable of tricks gets trotted out (in part) to distance the author from the reader.
One risk you take when you write down stories about your kids is that people wil use your prose to pass judgment on you -- as a parent or as a person. I mean, I didn't set out to nauseate anyone here. (Though I do not discount the possibility that this is a gift I possess.) But for those of us uneasy with earnest discourse (and I here recall some Richard Hugo quote I don't have to hand, the gist of which is that you begin to mistrust a man who needs to keep telling you he loves his wife), broad strokes of humor may perhaps be informed by a basically serious purpose. When I offer up comical instances of my own ineptitude and doubt, I am using a bit of clumsy legerdemain or misdirection. I may be fallible, but I am conscious of the process of parenting, and of the gap between idealism and parental praxis. And into this gap falls something along the lines of an anecdote about how today I fixed pancakes for lunch for all the kids in my daughter's playgroup.
Original parental intention (ca. 2002): Our kid would choose to enjoy organic vegetables due to our careful nurturing.
Current working solution (ca. 2005): We generally offer our kid a choice of a number of healthy and perhaps less healthy foods; she tends to choose the one closest in spirit to macaroni.
What makes it into the blog (2/1/2005): An anecdote about making my kid and her friends pink pancakes for lunch!
What an incautious reader might assume: This guy feeds his kid crap! And writes self-absorbed drivel re: same!
What I may have intended: Hey, sympathetic reader, how about that incongruous gap between idealism and praxis in attentive parenting?
Anyway, I at least managed to work something in here about the pink pancakes, which is what I set out to cover when I started banging away at this thing this evening. I will blame this whole unseemly detour into half-assed theory on Joan Didion, whose stuff I was plowing through while laid up in bad this weekend with the house virus; I reread her essay about keeping a notebook, which seems apposite to this curious public-private form:
The rest of us [grown-ups] are expected, rightly, to affect absorption in other people's favorite dresses, other people's trout. And so we do. But our notebooks give us away, for however dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable 'I' ("On Keeping a Notebook").
And so, to bed.