Speak Roughly to Your Little Boy

Culturebox took a certain amount of heat from you, dear readers, for her paean last week to the electronic baby sitter–television, that is–and for calling children “annoying little buggers.” Your most common reaction: “This is precisely the defeatist type of attitude that could eventually bring the beloved American civilization down.” Your second most common reaction: “Maybe Judith Shulevich [sic] and people like her who think of children as ‘annoying little buggers’ should think about sterilization.” Those who didn’t advocate voluntary tubal ligation (I hope that was what you were advocating) thought religion was in order.

Culturebox will appeal to history, that defense of scoundrels, to argue that television seems a pretty harmless way to distract children, at least when you compare it to the alternatives. Here are a few of the methods of child-restraint practiced by our forefathers and foremothers–many of whom were patriotic, religious, and of high moral character: swaddling their children, depriving them of food (it was thought to keep babies quiet), tying them to chairs, and beating them severely. If infants persisted in bawling or shitting or generally irking, it could be assumed they were changelings–spawns of the devil–in which case they were turned out of doors or killed. Children were routinely told horrifying tales about gruesome creatures lurking nearby, ready to devour them if they so much as left their beds. A popular technique for moral edification was taking a child to a public execution.

The tender empathy for children’s every need and want that we take for granted is little over a century old–about the same age as psychoanalysis and the notion of child-care expertise. It is due for revision. A return to exorcism may be excessive, but there is plenty of evidence that children are hardier than previously thought (see, for instance, this essay by Judith Rich Harris, or read her book The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do). Besides, in the immortal words of my mother, parents are people, too. Without that acknowledgement, we may all be doomed to live life in the manner of this Culturebox reader–who lost my sympathy, I’m sorry to say, as soon as he called me Judy:

Judy, bringing up kids is supposed to be very, very hard. You aren’t supposed to have free time. Your head should not rest worry-free on your pillow every night. Your kid should not understand how hard you work or the sacrifices you make for her. You gave up your entitlement to these things when you brought another little human into the world who relies 100 percent on you for her livelihood and education. If you’re put out by bringing up kids, it’s because you’re selfish, or lazy, or immature, or made a big mistake when you weren’t prepared to handle the consequences. Go spend every waking hour with your kids, and bitch about your hectic life in eighteen years.

Ahab I am: Culturebox has met Chatterbox–has put him up in her home!--and can vouch for the likelihood of his sanguine reaction to The Blair Witch Project. Chatterbox is a man blessed with an enviably cheerful temperament. Not for him the excesses of Gothic supernaturalism or ridiculous stories of ghosts, stick figures, and things that go bump in the night. Culturebox is admittedly, as Edgar Allan Poe once wrote, “nervous–very, very dreadfully nervous.” Whereas Chatterbox seems to share the blissfully indifferent sensibilities of the Polynesian islander Queequeg, celebrated thusly by Herman Melville in Moby Dick: “Savages are strange beings; at times you do not know exactly how to take them. At first they are overawing; their calm self-collectedness of simplicity seems a Socratic wisdom … [Queequeg] seemed entirely at his ease; preserving the utmost serenity; content with his own companionship; always equal to himself. Surely this was a touch of fine philosophy; though no doubt he had never heard there was such a thing as that.”