Mom WarsJoel Stein
Here’s what goes on when I take Laszlo to the playground. He climbs up stuff; I climb up stuff with him. He climbs up some other stuff; I check email on my phone. He has an interaction with some kid that causes me and the kid’s dad to talk. He’s pretty cool. He’s in the music business. He recommends some bands. We almost know one guy in common, but then I realize I don’t really know that guy. His kid walks away, I check some more emails. Some other kid interacts with Laszlo and I flirt with that kid’s mom. If I’m lucky, her kid walks away before I embarrass myself.
When Cassandra goes to the playground, however, it’s a Jane Austen novel. Slights are delivered about each other’s children. Judgments cast upon parenting styles and abilities. Actual arguments occur. Sometimes, if she thinks some mom she hates might be there at a particular hour, she’ll go to drive to a playground much further away. It’s the Real Housewives of The Swingset.
I never understood women until I went to the playground.
Because now, when I’m there alone, I can see those silent wars.
I used to assume that all the slights and insults women have told me about since high school were imagined: A byproduct of the massive insecurities that come from being recipients of the gaze. I’d say: “That girl doesn’t really hate you,” Or: “There’s no way she did that on purpose to hurt you.”
Wow, was I wrong.
Now I know those slights are not imagined. All those subtextual insults are indeed intended. Women are living in a world so dense with emotional nuance that makes me exhausted to even consider.
That music guy and I probably said 100 things to each other that were designed to tear at each other’s social status. And I know for sure that my body language around that hot mom was creepy. So we’re putting out the same messages that women are, I’m sure, just instinctually. But here’s our genius: we’re not receiving those messages. By the time I’m in the car, I don’t even remember the people I talked to at the playground. Unless that mom was really, really hot.
It’s the same with Laszlo: Boys push him aside to get ahead on the slide; girls purposely block his way to get his attention. I can see in his face that he’s not wondering what he did to cause this, or what their issues are. All he’s thinking is: When are these kids going to get off the damn slide?
I’m not sure it’s a better way to live. We’re happy, but we’re missing 75 percent of emotional interaction. Which is why dad blogs suck.
Ours must be a less fulfilling life, with all the bright colors that made it interesting muted. I can see why so many women are on Paxil: Men are genetically Paxilled to begin with.
I’m not going to miss out on all the playground excitement anymore. Next time I’m at the park, I’m going to really pay attention to why that music guy is asking me about toilet training, and what he’s trying to say about me. I’m going to tell that hot mom to control her daughter on the slide.
And then I’m going to come home and bore Cassandra about it.