Warning: Portions of this post may be offensive to some viewers. Though I don’t know why.
One of the best things to happen to my summer was the release of the Adam Mansbach’s new bedtime story book, Go the F**k to Sleep, illustrated by Ricardo Cortés. Debuted in June as a New York Times bestseller, the book has received popular acclaim and was picked up by Samuel L. Jackson who offered his narration to the work. I cannot imagine that I need to explain what the book is about. Any parent who has ever tried to put a child to sleep has failed miserably at it, so the title and the gist of its contents are self-evident to most. If you’re still curious, you can listen to Samuel L’s rendition of it. Even if you’re clear on what the book’s about—in fact, even if you’ve read it—go ahead and enjoy it again, bathed in that wonderfully nasal voice of Samuel L. Perfectly encapsulating the struggle of what one reviewer on the book’s back cover called parenting’s “rawest point: bedtime,” Mansbach’s book offers a rare but welcome view of the great emotional and physiological investment that parents have in rendering children unconscious through sleep and sweet dreams each evening. Wait a minute—what am I talking about? “Evening,” my a**. I mean each night. My kids never went to bed in the “evening.” Far into the night, maybe. Middle of the day maybe, like right when I got to the grocery store maybe, prompting some other kid’s mom to croon all over us about how my poor little thing just wants to be home in her bed. Uh, yeah. So does her mother. And believe me, her mother has NO interest in the stinking grocery store getting to suck up my kid’s sleep time, which means no chance of me sitting in silence for twenty minutes, or getting a little shut-eye myself, thank you very much. So don’t even.
Anyway. The book. It’s a terrific interweaving of tenderness and rage, which you might think can’t be interwoven very effectively, but you’d be wrong and Mansbach’s book proves it. It takes the reader through a cycle of emotion that the futility of bedtime offers up:
Defeat and failure
It properly names their lies about being thirsty, and their manipulations of needing a stuffed animal. It accurately pegs how we inaccurately turn the effects of these lies and manipulations into evidence of our bad parenting. The juxtaposition of snuggling lions, sleepy towns, dozing kittens, curled-up field mice, sort of everything in the universe from seeds in a farmer’s garden to the “giant pangolins of Madagascar,” all of which are fast asleep, quiet and blissfully not conscious, up against the wide-eyed child and the bleary-eyed parent who’s really and truly losing it, is delightful. And the profanity in the last line of each page is just so scrumptious, not only because it captures the churning frustration of bedtime attempts that fail, but also because it breaks taboos about how we’re supposed to be thinking about and speaking to the little darlings. I am, as my readers know, a huge fan of breaking these taboos. And I feel a special affection for works that do this with potty mouth and while making me laugh out loud to the point of getting teary-eyed.
Speaking of which, I am reminded here of one of the funniest things I have ever seen, funny and delightful in its boldness and willingness to stomp on parenting practices we hold sacred, in this case the practice of adoring children’s work, no matter how it turned out. That I’ve shared my affection for it with few people until now is an indication of my struggle in seeing parenting differently than most of those around me. It is a scathing, partly tongue-in-cheek critique of children’s artwork offered online by a random co-worker somewhere who goes by “Maddox” at his pompously titled website: thebestpageintheuniverse.net. Maddox resents having to adore his co-workers’ children’s drawings, which they display on their desks and cubicle walls. He posts multiple examples of the artwork and offers his bitter commentary for each. I love the page not because I advocate its worldview and not because it isn’t rude and over-the-top and self-aggrandizing and even mean—because it’s all of those—but because it says things so antithetical to our fetishized image of family that I find it as refreshing as an extra-large, ice-cold, fountain Diet Coke; I want to drink in every last drop. It’s a page that must be seen firsthand to be properly savored but, to offer a glimpse, my favorite image is of an eight year-old child’s drawing of a firetruck to which “Maddox” flings “Ding Ding! Here comes the sh*t-mobile” and goes on to assault various elements of the drawing. It’s harsh, man. But hilarious. It flies in the face of so much that is held sacred in mothering. That children require less of our applause and our oozing and our intrusion than we insist on thrusting at them and exhaust ourselves to provide is a position that much of the U.S. parenting mythos simply cannot abide. And our insistence on continuing to drown them in it is so insane and so inane that it takes an unforgiving, even cruel commentary like that offered by Maddox to get us to see it.
Similarly, that children want more of our time and patience and energy than we have to give is so crystal clear, but regrettably so taboo that we can’t cop to it thus offering up some solidarity and solace, is really criminal. And it takes the persistent tender rage portrayed in Mansbach and Cortés’ book to get us to admit it, even if through teary-eyed laughter. I’m hopeful that Mansbach’s book incites a riot of similar books and that, frankly, it opens doors for my own new book idea, Parenting Sorta Sucks.