I had this hokey, embarrassing thought the other day — that when I was a kid, the word “like” was to be avoided, that using it in excess made you sound like a moron, but now, my generation of conclusive-sentence avoiders is largely responsible for turning that taboo into the fucking holy grail. We cannot get enough likes! We like! We want to be liked! And we are open about it, shameless even, and, maybe as a result, our talking is littered with likes. And there’s nobody to tell us to stop! Because we are, finally, in charge. We are the parents, the scolders! It’s, like, liberating. And unnerving.
I don’t want to start getting nostalgic this early. I don’t want to croak out things like, “when I was a kid,” cementing my oncoming irrelevance, as well as the likelihood that I will never again wear a pair of on trend pants. I want to not give a shit how people talk. And I kind of don’t. I heard the This American Life piece on vocal fry and found awesome their conclusion that the way we talk is always evolving and if you can’t get on board, you’re old, so shut up.
But I can’t yet make peace with the likes.
The Facebook likes. Some wretched day in the future, my son will create a Facebook profile. He will no longer be frantically trying to put tops on every single item in our apartment or doing impressions of elephants; he will be cropping a photo of himself that he hopes people will find hilarious/hot/intriguing (BARF). This whole thing is freakier to me these days than him mis-stepping his way off playground climbing structures or swallowing a dusty guitar pick. I am not afraid of a lot of things I probably should be afraid of, like bullies or predators or non-child-proofed apartments. I am afraid of him being human. I am afraid of him posting something, anything, an article, a picture of himself, a wry observation about the way shirts fit these days (shirts are going to fit so weirdly in 2030!), and of him waiting for someone to like it. There he will be, an iPhone hooked onto his thumbnail or the top half of his knee or something, his forehead knotted a little, the rest of his face trying to play it cool, as he checks to see if anybody heard him and wants to say so publicly. The idea of this kid waiting to be affirmed by the fascinating hellscape that is social media makes me anxious enough to question why I decided to have a chid at all.
I did not always want to be a mother. My parents graciously provided me with a younger sister to boss around and corral into playing the petite father in the classic American Girl Doll script, “Home Is Where the Heart Is: A Play About Kirsten”, which we performed in our neighbor’s driveway to an audience that was at least a quarter dogs. But then, I became a mother, on purpose, because it felt like there was a baby-shaped space in my life and because a miniature version of my husband sounded fun, interesting, and adorable. Abstract babies are incredible (and flawless and boring)! Real babies are incredible (and terrible and riveting) and I can see how much I did not know was coming because it is very hard to summon feelings for something with whom you have not yet spent a lot of time.
But we’ve done that now, amassed 10,000 hours together, and I anticipate his future approval seeking with the same terror I feel about my own. And, OK, yeah, I’m getting it now, that if I want a future for him that is at least somewhat free of a desire to please, I need to stop trying to please people myself. Crap. Why did I have a kid again? Was it perhaps a masochistic attempt to cultivate at-times overwhelming self-awareness, particularly of my myriad inadequacies? If so, IT WORKED!
Lance and I went out to dinner last Friday for our friend’s birthday and drank wine and had conversations that made us nod a lot in earnest and laugh and we sat outside in a lit up garden space and my arms felt weightless because there was nothing in them. It had been a while since that had happened. We walked through a few neighborhoods to get home and as we approached a quiet part of 6th Avenue, a woman and a man were walking out of an apartment building and his hand was on her elbow and she was taking deliberate steps and her face was focused and blank. There was another woman walking close to them and a third woman came from somewhere in the street, sliding between parked cars to meet the woman and the man, excited, taking the focused woman’s arms gently. The focused woman was in labor. These were her people, holding on to her, at hand to witness things and guard her and be needed. They all wanted to be needed.
The whole scene jammed a golf ball in my throat and we kept walking and I was crying and grinning, idiotically. 15 months ago, I was this woman. Another friend of ours was this woman early in the morning this past Mother’s Day. More and more people I know will be this woman and many more I don’t know will be, too. But until Friday night, I had not seen what the briefly lucid time-outside-time before motherhood actually begins looked like.
I don’t know if there’s a point to my seeing that woman, but I want there to be. I want the point to be that life is happening, heedlessly, away from the crowd of affirmers. The woman and I, we were people wearing spring clothing walking on our legs at night, both of us at the mercy of creatures much smaller than us, and there was no picture or video, except the one in my head. She won’t ever know I liked it. It won’t matter that I did, not to her anyway, because right now, I imagine her arms do not feel weightless. But to me, that image, the one I liked, can matter so much and I can recall it whenever I want and get tears in my eyes and feel the hot buzz of my single glass of wine in my legs and be alive, so luckily alive.
So, in 2030, when my son is nervously tapping away at his fancy hologram thumbnail retina phone, I’ll say to him the things I say to myself, like, “We’re all actually alone, you know, even the cool kids,” and “The internet is horseshit!” and he’ll smile patronizingly, like, “Good try, Mom”. But then I’ll say, “I know it’s a school night and it’s freezing, but let’s go out and get milkshakes or Skittles,” and he will not be able to turn me down because he will like at least one of those options (HE MUST) and he will be too anxious to stay home, twiddling his thumbnail screen. We will take to the streets of Brooklyn and we will see stuff, see people walking their trembling dogs and poorly parking their cars and tripping over patches of ice, all en route somewhere, and we will feel ourselves getting smaller and the world getting bigger and I will still be afraid of my son being human and wanting and waiting, but I will be human too and my humanness will make me impatient for my milkshake, so, instead of worrying, I’ll say, “C’mon, Sly, I’m hungry,” and to the diner we will go.