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Gnat has a boyfriend. And he’s the one bad boy in the class, too. She’s been talking about him for some time, and often the mood after school would be elevated or submerged, depending on whether he was her friend that day, or had spurned her for another girl. I’d get a load of 14-year-old attitude if I pressed the matter, too.

Today she took a special chocolate heart to school for him. I asked what she would do if the other boys wanted one as well.

“I will say maybe tomorrow,” she said.

We got ready for school, got the socks and shoes on, struggled into the coat, buckled up. I’m running around the house, trying to get everything I need. Separate the bills, find some stamps, find the checkbook: out of checks. Find the backup. Get the mail. Refill the iPods. I have my headphones on; Hewitt is on the Prager show, discussing Blog, and while I’m running up the stairs I hear our friend Hugh tell Prager I told everyone he’d slagged on the brand of cigar I offered last summer when he came by to Jasperwood. Aw, criminey. I did nothing of the sort. I told everyone that I had given Dennis a cigar, and he'd said "Don Diego. Mild, but that's okay." And he was gracious and he smoked it down to a stub.

Okay, there’s the checkbook, let's go.

“The man on the radio said Lileks,” Gnat said.

“That he did, hon. Let’s go.”

“Why did he say Lileks?”

“He – well, I don’t know, hon. Let’s go.”

She held the heart all the way to school, lost in thought. Halfway down the highway she said: “I think I’ll ask Summer to give it to him for me.”

“Because you’re feeling a little shy?”

“I’m feeling a little shy.”

Right now I’m at work; can’t wait to see how this played out. I’m sitting in the cafeteria with the iPod shuffle (“How Much is That Doggie in the Window.” [Tripe.] “Bullet Hits the Bone,” Golden Earring. [Sorry, but I always liked that song; it’s like a little Miami Vice episode in one long tune.] ) This is where I write the Joe Ohio story, if the schedule holds. Let’s see what’s next in the queue . . . Wow, didn’t see that coming. It’s the match he was working on yesterday. Well, no it’s not, not really. Anyway. To work, then.

Later. At home now, having concluded a miserably unsuccessful night; tried to write all the stuff I’m supposed to. No luck. It’s as if my brain has designated Wednesday and Saturday as days I can’t conjure up anything. I wrote two pieces tonight for various jobs, but they both are thin, trembling, smelly things. Tomorrow! I can fix them tomorrow! Sure. Here’s tomorrow: fix one piece in the AM, go to work, construct the frame of a Strib column, run upstairs to bang out a Joe, run back down to slap flesh on the Strib bones, pick up Gnat from school, then attempt to construct the rest of the day so she doesn’t realize it’s Mommy’s monthly Bunco night. Because that would mean Chuck E. Cheese, no? Well: I took her to CEC last weekend when we had an hour to kill, My Gift To Her, so I’ve done my time in that cacophonous mine for a while. This means I’ll probably have naught tomorrow but photoblogging. Forgive me.

Took a brief walk downtown: cold. Mean. Hard. Listened to the Prager show – a conversation on self-esteem, with a few calls from women who felt that they lacked self-esteem because they were stay-at-home moms instead of hard-charging superwomen. Well, they didn’t lack self-esteem so much as they inferred from some great floating amorphous thing called SOCIETY that should lack self-esteem, and they absorbed this through the various means – TV, movies, their skin, etc. Put me in mind of this. It’s a big long piece about supermoms who feel stressed about having it all, etc. I read these things with a certain amount of cold-bloodedness, I have to admit. On one hand, they answer Freud’s question about what women want, and that is: big sympathetic it-takes-an-iVillage cover stories. It's not so much a piece about what women face as how some women react when a preposterous ideal is abraded by reality. I don't dispute that women are stressed, face a variety of conflicting expectations, etc. Welcome to the world. But I cannot take the article seriously when it puts forth a specious thesis like this:

Women today mother in the excessive, control-freakish way that they do in part because they are psychologically conditioned to do so. But they also do it because, to a large extent, they have to. Because they are unsupported, because their children are not taken care of, in any meaningful way, by society at large. Because there is right now no widespread feeling of social responsibility—for children, for families, for anyone, really—and so they must take everything onto themselves.

Imagine tha. You have to take the responsibility of your children on yourselves. The day I expect "society" to take care of my child in a meaningful way is the day I give society the right to take her away and do a better job if I don't schedule daily flash-card phonics sessions. I suspect that we are talking about two different groups - those mothers who genuinely need help because they made some horrible decisions and find themselves with many children and no fathers, and those who can't quite strike the perfect balance between Corporate Warrior Princess and UberSuperPerfectRoleModelLove-GusherMom, and hence get, well, excessive and control-freakish. I think the former group needs our help, and the second group needs a big frosty glass of chill-the-hell-out with a kicky pastel umbrella. Proof of the horrors of modern American life follows:

As I write this, I have an image fresh in my mind: the face of a friend, the mother of a first-grader, who I ran into one morning right before Christmas.

She was in the midst of organizing a class party. This meant shopping. Color-coordinating paper goods. Piecework, pre-gluing of arts-and-crafts projects. Uniformity of felt textures. Of buttons and beads. There were the phone calls, too. From other parents. With criticism and "constructive" comments that had her up at night, playing over conversations in her mind. "I can't take it anymore," she said to me. "I hate everyone and everything. I am going insane."

Well. It’s too bad Amazon cannot overnight a sense of perspective, because there are, in truth, tougher situations to find yourself in. I’d like to reserve “hating everyone and everything and going insane” for the moment when I’m fleeing the attack helicopters that have come to wipe out my tribe.

From my experience kids do not require their paper goods to be color-coordinated, unless that means everyone gets the same number of sheets of each color. Which, I hate to relate, can be arranged. And if you can't, and they complain, you tell them to deal with it. Likewise uniformity of felt textures, the absence of which has not caused any eye-gouging fights I’ve seen. But I’m a guy, and hence I will never stay up at night playing over conversations in my mind, something to which some women seem more prone than men. It's an instructive difference. It would seem to suggest an inherant dispositional characteristic that might not respond immediately to minor shifts in public policy.

But, I'm a guy, and probably have no standing here. Men come off poorly in the piece, mostly as absent confused dullards hanging around the margins of their family’s lives, irritating their spouses by their mulish refusal to read minds and anticipate what needs to be done. Granted, I’m lucky. My spouse comes home, she knows what to do: let me work. I get a lot done during the day, but when I’m not writing or researching I clean the house so she doesn't have to do anything when she comes home. House is clean, dinner's made. I don't do this out of grim duty; I like it. I never have to worry whether I’ve sold out my gender because I’m not standing in a meeting room explaining a pie chart. Raising Gnat is the most important thing I do. But she’s a child, not a project. I don’t get a bonus if she exceeds quarterly projections.

Instead of blaming society, moms today tend to blame themselves. They say they've chosen poorly. And so they take on the Herculean task of being absolutely everything to their children, simply because no one else is doing anything at all to help them. Because if they don't perform magical acts of perfect Mommy ministrations, their kids might fall through the cracks and end up as losers in our hard-driving winner-take-all society.

Sweet Christus, would these people just relax? Might the problem not be “society,” but the latest set of internally contradictory expectations thrown at women’s heads like a big frozen watermelon? First of all, “no one else is doing anything at all to help them” is rather dire; fathers do contribute in odd ways, I suspect. Although they are notoriously unreliable for felt coordination. No one helped my mom, at least in the way that this article seems to define help. I’m probably channeling the lessons I learned from her: Be there. Be consistent. Be kind. Listen. Help. Absent yourself to give them a chance to be on their own. It's not that mysterious. And should I fail? Well, How do these people define “losers”? When their kids' wedding announcements don’t appear in the Times trailing the tin cans of jobs and degrees? If Gnat ends up happy and good and boringly middle-class in an Illinois suburb with a good husband and smart kind kids I’ll be hard-pressed to call her a loser.

The author has suggestions for improving society:

For real change to happen, we don't need more politicians sounding off about "family values." Neither do we need to pat the backs of working mothers, or "reward" moms who stay at home, or "valorize" motherhood, generally, by acknowledging that it's "the toughest job in the world." We need solutions—politically palatable, economically feasible, home-grown American solutions—that can, collectively, give mothers and families a break.

And this would be a chill pill the size of a VW Beetle mailed to every home in the nation? No:

We need incentives like tax subsidies to encourage corporations to adopt family-friendly policies.

Sigh. There’s more, including a call for the United States to be more like France, and it concludes thus:

In general, we need to alleviate the economic pressures that currently make so many families' lives so high-pressured, through progressive tax policies that would transfer our nation's wealth back to the middle class. So that mothers and fathers could stop running like lunatics, and start spending real quality—and quantity—time with their children. And so that motherhood could stop being the awful burden it is for so many women today and instead become something more like a joy.

So an increase in the marginal tax rates will let women regard motherhood as something more like a joy. Presumably this means that money extracted from the very people she talks about in her article – high-buck Yups on the Eastern Seaboard feeling the stabby knives of guilt – will be directly dispensed to stressed out women in Omaha, who will use it . . . for what? Quality child care that obviates the need to come up with magical mommy moments on their own? Is the author actually suggesting that repealing the tax cuts will stop mothers from getting insane over coordinated felt? That some would toss and turn over something some biatchy mom had said, but comfort herself with the knowledge that some couple in Boston was paying 38% on those last few dollars of income?

The article makes a point despite itself: the perfect is the enemy of the fun. Maybe I’m the wrong person to comment on this, since I am a guy in a rather unique position. But I’ve given up great acres of work time to be here with Gnat, and the amount of free time I used to have – time I spent recharging the daily batteries – has dwindled to zip. But it’s all a trade-off. So it’ll be a couple more years until I can wander downtown again; so it’ll be a while until she’s in school and my day is my own. So what. Nothing beats the time we spend together, the look on her face when she shows me a magic trick, the hug and kiss I get when I leave her at school. Today she beat me at UNO again and I explained how Barbie glitter cards are made and we looked at a website about the solar system and ooohed and ahhed at Saturn. And that matters more than anything because she is mine and I’m her Dad, and qualifying those definitions just seems petty.

When it comes to expectations about gender and roles and accomplishments and the latest theories about childrearing, I have a secret mantra:

I don’t care.

I know, I know. Easy for me to say. But shout it out loud! I DON'T CARE! Feels good, no? Now meet my hero. Don’t miss the last line. They don’t get it. Even if they ordered it and put it on their platinum Amex, they wouldn’t know where to have it delivered.

You know, in retrospect, I wonder if some will think this is somehow anti-women. Can't help that. But the entire article seems anti-women, to me. I live in a world of moms, and their sense of ingenuity and amusement are a constant source of delight. I remember asking one mom how she dealt with all the tiny plastic pieces of Polly Pocket clothing that clutter the play room.

She rolled her eyes and grinned and made a back-and-forth motion with her hand. Hoover them up and move along.