At 23, I was the first in my circle of friends to become a mother. My sweet, easy-going son quickly gained the nickname “Bernie,” inspired by the zany 1989 dark comedy about a corpse dragged around by Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman to protect themselves from a hit man.
My baby didn’t get his moniker because he was framing us for embezzlement, but because of his lack of protest about being hauled around to whatever, whenever. As far as I was concerned, he was perfect, innocent, infallible and always would be. (Stay with me – I was young, naive, and under informed.)
Eventually my son became mobile and less cooperative. It was that point in the life of a human where suddenly one begins to see themselves not just an extension of their mother, but as an entirely separate entity. He got into everything. He channeled Linda Blair on a few occasions. He bit me in a very sensitive area.
In rare but alarming moments, I wanted to punt him like a football. With limited connections to other parents, and social media still being in its infancy, I considered that perhaps it was just me. I was doing something wrong.
And then, in walked a little known comic named Louis C.K. Before becoming the comedic institution he is today, he quietly meandered onto the scene in the regrettably short lived, but nonetheless brilliant sitcom, Lucky Louie. It ran on HBO and revolved around the lives of Louie, a part-time mechanic, his wife, Kim, a full-time nurse and their 4 year old daughter, Lucy.
It was the glimmer of the Louie we have long since come to revere and cherish. He’d begin a thought or argument in normal territory, only to turn on a dime down a dark alley of brutally honest despair. It was refreshing and cathartic.
Then came the episode, titled, “Discipline.” In the span of 25 minutes, my approach to parenting was turned completely on its FACE. Like the episodes that came before, it danced right up to the edge of “things it’s socially acceptable to say” and then took a flying leap over a cliff.
A bomb of truth, dropped from the heavens to smash any remaining preconceived notions about what sort of mother I should or should not be, Louis blurted:
“The kid is a fucking asshole.”
And after experiencing the kid’s snotty attitude for herself, his wife echoed the sentiments.
To know me now, you’d find it nearly impossible to believe this stopped me in my tracks; that my jaw dropped to my chest and my hands promptly clamped over my mouth to push back the cackle of laughter that surely meant I was a terrible person.
This is HARD
I’ve long since given up the notion that children are magical, spirited snowflakes, or that I have to maintain the illusion I have any idea what I’m doing as a parent. Now, not only would I openly laugh at it, I’ve actually said it. Hell, I’ve even written it on the internet.
Yet, in that moment, hearing those words tumble effortlessly from their lips was a gift. In one expletive laced phrase, I had been granted permission to call it like I saw it; to be honest, not just about how incredible my kid could be, but about how incredibly difficult it is to be a mom. This shit is HARD.
It’s strange to think there was a time, not long ago, when people didn’t let sentiments like these fly so freely. But back then, before Twitter, Facebook, and a deluge of mom blogs had the omnipresence they do now, we were often left to wonder if we were the only sorry people who occasionally wanted to flick a kid right in the forehead.
I’ll never forget the first time I left my house for a walk around the neighborhood with my brand new baby. I cinched him tight against my chest in our leopard print sling (one of the few baby items I had chosen to equip myself with) and set off.
As I made my way downtown, the cars that passed by us seemed as loud as freight trains. I crossed to the other side of the street when a truck sat idling at the end of a driveway. I zigzagged back and forth across the pedestrian mall avoiding every person ignorant enough to stand around smoking cigarettes when there are BABIES IN THE WORLD.
It was like waking up in your trashed house after hosting a rager. HOW DID IT COME TO THIS? This place is DISGUSTING.
The transition into motherhood came with a new lens through which I view the world. It sometimes beams light into the shadows. It’s a microscope and a telescope.
I’ve tuned into the beauty and the absurdity and granted myself license to be honest. Even when my kid is being an asshole.
And because Louis C.K. is basically my parenting Buddha, these are the other gems on which I’ve built my parenting philosophy.
“I’m bored’ is a useless thing to say. I mean, you live in a great, big, vast world that you’ve seen none percent of. Even the inside of your own mind is endless; it goes on forever, inwardly, do you understand? The fact that you’re alive is amazing, so you don’t get to say ‘I’m bored.”
“Listen. The only time you should look into your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look into your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have…as much as them.”
“I have one guiding philosophy on raising kids, and it’s an old saying that I’ve renovated. ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Leave the dude alone and he’ll figure it out.’”
“You know when you see a mother someplace, like at McDonalds, and she’s melting down on her kid. She’s like, ‘Shut up. I hate you and you’re ugly.’ And people are sitting around and saying, ‘Oh my goodness. She’s a horrible mother.’ Guess what? Those people aren’t f**king parents. They don’t have kids. Because any parents that are in that store are saying, ‘What did that sh*tty kid do to that poor woman?’”
“I’m not raising children. I’m raising the grownups they’re going to be. I have to raise them with the tools to get through a terrible life. That’s the way I look at it.”