Friday, February 02, 2007

Give Up

Last night, Matt and I went to a rock club to see Dan Savage read from The Commitment and Neal Pollack read from Alternadad. Alternadad is a book in which Pollack writes of his angst about losing street cred now that he's a parent. Apparently, he grew up in a suburb with nerdy, stable parents who drank highballs at cocktail hour and played golf on the weekends. He couldn't fathom what a "cool" parent would look like, so he assumed there was no such thing. This was a problem when it came time for him, a self-proclaimed hipster, to become a dad. How was he going to pull it off?

(I can tell him all about cool parents. You know, the ones who let you drink tumblers of champagne on New Year's Eve and hold your hair back for you later when you vomit? Sooo cool. The ones who smoke so much pot they can't remember why you shouldn't? The ones who are so open about sex that you have to hear about it all the livelong day? Oooh, yes. Growing up with cool parents was grrrrrreat! It was so great that most of my life I never wanted to have children.

Not that I'm bitter. Because of my parents, I got my binge-drinking out of the way before I left high school and delayed having sex because I was terrified of getting knocked up young like my mom. So how could I complain?)

I empathize with old Neal. I have expended a great amount of energy on the same question (which may have been more ridiculous on my part due to my lack of actual coolness). It's a common concern.

I remember a woman in my graduate program telling me, wistfully, that she envied the moms who dressed in stretch pants and Keds. She herself cut her own hair, shopped in thrift stores, and made a personality trait out of her super-alternativeness. She was also, at the time, the mother of a small toddler, and pregnant.

"Wouldn't it be nice to just not care anymore?" she said as we drove past one such unhip, uncaring mom pushing a stroller up East John Street. Inwardly, I sort of rolled my eyes at her hipster snobbery. I mean, God, if you have to try that hard to be cool, then aren't you really trying too hard?

(I understood the larger concept, though. I was battling my own issues about becoming a teacher and having to buckle down in grad school. I couldn't even smoke pot anymore, because it was too expensive and it made me too stupid in class the next day. While my friends went to noisy rock shows and my roommate drank $50 bottles of wine, I was reading Piaget, writing papers about multiculturalism, and shopping for my bananas on sale at Safeway.)

Last night, my one question for Neal Pollack was, how do you know when you are just trying too hard and it's time to quit? Sean Nelson, the MC for the evening, beat me to it. During the post-book-reading Nelson/Pollack tete-a-tete, he asked Pollack a related question: Is it even possible to stay cool once you become a parent?

"At a certain point," Pollack admitted, "you just have to throw up your hands."

"And drive the Passat wagon? Metaphorically?" said Sean.

"Not even metaphorically," said Pollack.

Soon the standing crowd of people near the bar turned their attentions to each other. Poor Pollack stood onstage, eyes afire at the crowd's impudence, and interrupted his own story about a holier-than-thou vegetarian mom he and his kid encountered at the LA aquarium to shout, "Hey! Do you guys just want to drink?"

I felt for him. We were in a club, and a band was about to come onstage, and there were alcoholic beverages to imbibe and cute people to look at, and suddenly the whole parenting discussion just wasn't that funny or interesting anymore. And Pollack became just…a dad. Who was coming to realize it was time to get off the stage.

I guess that pretty much answered my question.


Rose said...

I am not ready to get off stage yet:( Am I really kidding myself? I kind of thought I was borderline cool until My husband got me a pair of Baby Blue Crocs, I don't care how cool you think they are....if you do think they are cool, you need to get off the stage. Actually I don't really care if my kids think I am cool or not...I just want my friends to think I am cool. Susie you are way cool, seriously!!!

Anonymous said...

Well, I can't pretend to have ever been particularly cool, much as I might like to be/have been. One thing I love about parenting is that I've gotten to know so many people who are quite different from me (cool people like you, Susie!) and with quite different perspectives, that I likely would not otherwise have connected with. Parenthood has been enriching for me in this regard.

Anonymous said...

I think our perception of cool has to change with our ages. We can't keep trying to be 20-something cool when we reach or mid-30's and beyond.

Cool to me now is to have a well-rounded knowledge base, to say what you mean and mean what you say, and to take care of whatever responsibility you have taken on.

OK, and to have a really fast car!


Rachel Sarah said...

Hi Susie,
I love how you put us in this scene, with a bunch of smart parents at a bar just wanting to have a drink and hang out, kid-free for a few hours.

I look forward to reading Pollack's book. I saw in the dedication to his mom and dad, his request that they skip Chapter 7. I'm curious about why.

Thanks for this,
Rachel Sarah