Don’t you kind of wonder how this woman thought she’d come out looking from this New York Times article?
On one hand, she seems perfectly aware that most of the other parents at the schools her kids have been at don’t like her much, nor do the school administrators. On the other hand, she seems so serenely unperturbed by the existence of other people with other views than her own, or by a little thing we academics like to call “culture”, who knows? She might feel that a wider window into her actions would result in a round of applause from the wider society for her righteous crusade.
I’m in New York for a conference this week. On the train up, I happened to be next to a very talkative older woman. To whom I was perfectly polite, before you go on accusing me of anything. I was struck, though, at the way she described history, both personal and shared. Some of what she had to say was a garden-variety account of how the world is going to hell in a handbasket, a story we’re all prone to tell with increasingly frequency as we age. But her version had a particular flavor to it, in which all of her choices as a young person were exactly what they should have been, and all of the choices of everyone younger than thirty now were exactly the opposite. Some declension stories are about the world, and our helplessness before it, but hers was, “I did everything right, and now everyone’s doing everything wrong.” She worked hard, now the young folk are all lazy. She liked the right kinds of books and right kinds of movies and now the kids are all perverts. She fell in love with the right man, now young women fall in love with sex fiends and wastrels. Maybe she did live the right life, though in my mind, living the right life includes not caring altogether that much about how other people live theirs.
The interesting (if consistent) amendment to her view of the world was that there is one and only one group of people under 30 who have in fact done the right thing: her own adult children. They’ve chosen the right careers, live in the right places, married the right people, raised their own young children the right way. Which in her view I think is just a vindication of the rightness of her own choices.
The reason I recount this somewhat painful trip alongside the mother crusading against birthday cupcakes in the schools is this: if there is a single thing I’m prepared to get righteously aggravated by at this point in my life, it’s people whose vision of their own lives rises perpetually towards their own righteous vindication.
I’m all about the doubts these days, I wallow in uncertainty. Sure, I’m still right about all sorts of shit, and don’t you forget it.
But if you want to be an aggravating irritant to the lives of every other adult trying to raise or teach a kid in your community, you’d better be damn sure the cause justifies it. If you’re Atticus Finch, green light, go for it. If you’re the scourge of the snacks, and brook no dissent? You might want to worry more about the epidemic spread of “lack of proportionality and self-awareness” before you worry about the epidemic of obesity. If you’re my seat-mate, would it hurt for you to imagine a story of your life where experience leads to humility, even a little teeny bit?