Susan Mihalic

Susan Mihalic
August 05
Writer & editor. Passionate about freedom of expression. Liberal, aspiring to be pointy-headed. Follow me on Twitter: @susanmihalic.


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FEBRUARY 12, 2010 8:09PM

The Cult of the Child

Rate: 18 Flag

Girlfriend’s outnumbered.

With one husband, twin five-year-old boys, and two neutered male cats, Girlfriend—my best friend of nearly 40 years—is the only female in her household.

Last night she told me that she and her husband are teaching the boys correct terminology for parts of their bodies. Boys being boys, the word “penis” has captivated them, as has the whole concept of the penis. Both boys like to push the waistband of their shorts under their scrotums, exposing themselves, and run through the house, pumping their fists in the air and bellowing, “Penis! Peeeeeenis!!!”

“It’s like that scene in ‘Braveheart’ where Mel Gibson yells, ‘Freeeeedom!’” Girlfriend said. “All they need is the blue and white body paint.”

In lieu of body paint, one of the boys took a permanent marker and drew a town on the carpeted floor of the bedroom he and his brother share—buildings, roads, trees, train tracks.

“Any idea how to get permanent marker out of carpet?” Girlfriend asked in a Facebook post in which she briefly related the story.

“Treasure these years,” said virtually every person who commented on her post. “They grow up so fast. You’ll miss these precious times when the boys are older.”

Girlfriend is not treasuring the carpet town, the penis exhibitionism, or the fact that one of the twins is particularly rough.

“When he kisses me good-bye in the morning when I let them out at school,” she said, “I always have to caution him not to hurt Mommy. It’s like I send him in there with his club and his backpack. They’re Neanderthals. They feed off each other.”

The boys were—and are—much wanted and much loved. Girlfriend is simply outnumbered and overwhelmed. Penis-brandishing Neanderthal cannibal children with clubs are not quite what she had in mind when she decided at the age of 44 that she wanted a baby. Eight months after the implantation of in-vitro-fertilized donor eggs, two healthy boys were born.

“We paid good money for this,” Girlfriend said once when they were infants, “and I’ve never been so fucking miserable in my life.”

I applaud her for her honesty and for not buying into what I call the Cult of the Child—the brainwashing some parents undergo that convinces them their children are innately, infallibly wise, untainted by worldly prejudices, and therefore their opinions and pronouncements should be heeded as if they were handed down from the heavens, and their every wish should be indulged.

If you don’t know parents like this, count yourself lucky. If you are a parent like this, get a grip. Children can be smart, funny, and astute, but they are not little gods, and treating them as if they are places an unfair burden on them. Expect them to be children—complete with penis-brandishing and improper application of the permanent marker. Set boundaries. Allow them to experience consequences. It will make them healthier adults.

Do I speak as a parent? Oh, hell, no. I am happily child-free, and therefore in a uniquely unqualified position to give parents unsolicited, objective advice.

Girlfriend sometimes wonders why she wanted children, but at other times she says they are worth the “constant interruptions, constant servitude, and constant exhaustion.”

I can’t imagine that I’d feel that way—ever. The cute things they say? I am not amused. The adorable smelly little hugs and kisses? Keep ’em to yourself, kid. The refrigerator artwork? Mm-hm, nice, thanks, into the trash it goes.

Here’s the deal, boys. I have certain expectations of you: You will keep your sticky, stinky kid funk to yourself. You will not whine. If you brandish your penis in my presence, I will laugh at you, not with you. You can draw on yourself all you want with that permanent marker, but draw on anything of mine and you will learn that Auntie Susan isn’t as nice as Mommy.

If you keep up your end of the bargain, here’s what you can expect of me: I’ll send you birthday and Christmas presents. When you’re older, I’ll teach you to ride a horse. I’ll teach you to swear, if Mommy hasn’t already done that. I’ll let you eat as much chocolate as you want. That’s it. That’s all you can expect from me. I never set out to be your favorite aunt. Don’t make me remind you: I do not belong to the Cult of the Child.

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Disclaimer: I don't actually hate children and have pretty fair tolerance for them in small doses, but I don't want to hold your baby, and if you force me to do so, I expect you to take it back after no more than five minutes.

I have a relative that thinks that telling a child "no" is abusive and that kids should know EVERYTHING about Mommy and Daddy. Uhggg!

I'll stick with pups, :) I get my "kid fix" from my niece and nephew.
Tell Girlfriend that, as boys, they do evolve. At 5, they may be body paint wearing BraveHearts, but from 15-30 they'll be toga wearing John Belushis (from Animal House). But, whether they're 5, 15 or 30, they'll still want to brandish their penis every chance they get...

Twins are supposedly particularly tough because they do feed off each other. I hope your friend is talking to other twin parents and learning a few tricks. Five years old is a weird age. They're still babies in a lot of ways. half here, half in fantasy land, still getting their marching orders from outer space.

But this time is IT. with kids you have to make a statement especially at this age, because this is the learning curve age. NO hurting mommy is tolerated. EVER. You make a mess, you clean it up. mommy helps but the kids clean it even if it can't be cleaned.

I've heard a punishment should only last one minute for each year of the kids age, so five minute, on hands and knees with a bucket of soapy water and a scrub brush scrubbing with mommy supervising, even if nothing budges, will remind snookums that there are consequences for his actions.

So maybe he'll think twice about writing on furniture, or bonking mommy on nose with your head when she's expecting a kiss. kids are essentially survivalists and are sometimes prone to savage. imo savage should be addressed rationally. but it needs addressing.

take it from grandmama.
Where do we go to join the Cult of the Grownup? =o)

After two hours on the children's reference desk, I'm feeling the repressive Victiorian adage "children should be seen and not heard" was actually pretty smart.
LadyM, I'm with you. Every maternal instinct I've ever had has been 100% satisfied by my four-legged kids. (And to anyone out there who thinks that's pathetic, fuck you.) A couple of days before my mastectomy, Girlfriend was complaining to me about the kids, and she stopped short, horrified, and said, "I can't believe I'm complaining to you when you have breast cancer." I said, "To be honest, I'd rather be in my position than yours." True story.

Studman! I've missed you! The brandishing gets better with age, doesn't it?

Monkey, Girlfriend goes to a "mothers of twins" group that understands the medicinal qualities of a tumbler or two of wine. It has helped tremendously. She and her husband do believe in appropriate consequences, so there's a chance the boys won't turn into the Son of Sam.

Shiral, If the Cult of the Grownup doesn't exist, let's start it. Bylaw #1: Members can't have dual membership in the Cult of the Child.
I like how you think! To late for me I have every cult under my roof already!
LL2, I don't see you as a believer in the "my child is a god" philosophy.
Jane, thanks. The phrase "stroking it like it was his best friend" is cracking me up.
Oh my. It sounds like your girlfriend needs to get control of those boys NOW. I wonder how her husband is with them? Something tells me that he thinks their behavior is cute. Parents need to be united or there will be trouble. Just because you wanted children and paid good money to get them, doesn't mean you should allow them to behave badly. I feel for her. I hope she can get them under control. Children ARE wonderful, but not if they're allowed to behave like wild banshees.
Lisa, usually Girlfriend and her husband make a pretty good team. I don't think he lets them get away with anything too heinous, but I think he's a little more lenient than she is.
"Disclaimer: I don't actually hate children and have pretty fair tolerance for them in small doses, but I don't want to hold your baby, and if you force me to do so, I expect you to take it back after no more than five minutes."

5 minutes? You're kinder than I am. Everyone knows better than to proffer their newborn offspring in my general direction. I like children when they are on their way home.
"To everything there is a season
And a time for every purpose under heaven." I wouldn't want to be a parent of preschoolers at 49!

Good to see you back "Auntie" Susan. Enjoyed your piece and agree with you.
Surly, five minutes is truly my upper limit, but I think I can tolerate that much simply because of my nice-girl Southern upbringing. Fortunately, I've managed to shed most of it.

Fusun, thank you. I have a theory. People always say, "I want a baby." They never say, "I want a five-year-old" or "I want a teenager." If you ask me, the lure of baby powder is more dangerous than cocaine to some people.
Hilarious! You have it all nailed... mischievous boys, exasperated mothers, outrageously over-indulging parents, the many ways kids can drive you crazy. I love your friend's and your own honesty.

My friends and I still call boys --and men-- The Penis People. It explains a lot. But do have your friend check in with Lisa Kern, she's a thoroughly hilarious pro.
Sally--oh, my God, the Penis People. That made me laugh out loud. I have a feeling your term is about to become much more widespread. And, oh, I'd love to get Girlfriend and Lisa Kern together!
Hahahahahahahahahah. Sorry. Laughing at what foolish monkey said. One minute per year of life? So, a 5 year old gets 5 minutes and a 15 year old gets 15 minutes? No, no, no... a 5 year old gets 15 minutes and a 15 year old gets grounded for the whole weekend. And one extra day for every complaint. Teaches them not to whine. I like kids, not brats. (I have one. Yes, she lived. And is sane. lol)
Those spoiled little fellows are NOT feeding off each other. They are feeding from mommy's endless teat. This is the way that we have grown four generations of sociopathic ding-dongs. Our kids could give a shit about anyone else because, Hey, Everyone's A Winner! Aren't they? I'm watching my eldest Grandson grow up and I shake my head. Rita-loid. It's not enough for him to be prescribed the dulling drugs, his Mom gets to imbibe, too. It pisses me off. Sometimes you wipe out and skin yer knees but you get up and do it over again. Whatever happened to hard knocks and the school wherein? Bah!
I love children, baked or sometimes grilled, maybe some wine to go with them. What?
Stupid, lazy me! I commented before I read all of the responses. Baby powder is like crack cocaine for girls of a certain age! Hilarious! I remember saying to Wifey that children seemed to be popping out like toadstools when our eldest got preggers. It seemed like the thing to do...
Oh Aunt Suzie, in time, you will be loved. To death. Kids actually love boundaries...the ones who run up and down their parents really don't like how out of control it feels.

You'll be the cool aunt before you know it.

Here's to teaching them all the wrong words! Cheers!
ranting boomer, I like your style: one extra day for every complaint.

Darryl, I agree. Raising a kid who never experiences consequences leads to young adults who make poor decisions and poor choices. By the time they're in their late teens, it's too late to instill a sense of responsibility in them. Girlfriend and her husband do discipline the boys, and I have hopes that they won't grow up to be serial killers. Nudists, maybe.

Tink, try them sauteed with a nice butter sauce. It brings out the piquancy of the kid funk.

Sparking, if kids love boundaries, they will worship me.
"My child is a God philosophy, I love that, so many raise their children that way, so wrong. My middle son screwed up royal last week. He felt so bad, at 18, he brought me his phone, skateboard and video games. He told me to keep them for now and then went out and cleaned my truck. I think I have done ok!
LL2, someday--if someone hasn't said it already--someone will tell your son, "Your mama raised you right." Where I come from, that's high praise. You are definitely doing something right!
Lunchlady, I'd kiss ya if ya were within reach! You taught your boy the most important lesson of all - There are CONSEQUENCES to our actions. I've yet to see a parental team do this in the last 20 years. I know it sounds lame but kudos to ya!!! That's what it's all about, in the end. Team play. If Mom and Dad aren't on the same page it's all hell for a basement...
You seem to paint two extremes here. My experience is that most people fall in between. For example, women can go through their children's entire childhoods without once feeling like they've "never been so fucking miserable" in their lives without necessarily belonging to the cult of the child or whatever you call it. You sound negative to me. But so does your friend. I don't think it's a healthy honesty that has her sometimes wishing she didn't have them or feeling fucking miserable. I think it's worrisome.
Lainey, you're right--I painted two extremes, and I did so deliberately. I expect most people, including Girlfriend, do fall in the middle. It's difficult to judge someone's parenting by a couple of incidents that her writer-girlfriend chose to single out for the sake of illustrating a point.
Lainey got her back up. We're not allowed to call the vast majority of poor parents on the carpet? She thinks you are a bitter, bitter woman and no man in his right mind would have you... Pretty funny. Pathetic, when you really think about it...
I read something a while back on a Facebook page called "Overheard in the Newsroom." An editor said something like, "We cannot please everyone. We are not prostitutes." I could have related some of the many sweet, positive stories Girlfriend has told me about the boys, but it wouldn't have made for a piece that was nearly as entertaining--to me, anyway. Others might have enjoyed them more, though. But . . . we are not prostitutes. Ultimately, I have to like what I write, but I recognize that it may not be to anyone else's taste.
Darryl needs a time out and a nap.
I think there is a perfectly good reason, or two, that God invented boarding schools.
Alison, I think she hopes to send them to Hogwart's.
Darryl, what? Seriously...what? Where did you get all that from? I not only didn't say that; I didn't think any of that.

Susan, I suppose you're right that portraying the extremes better makes a point. I tend toward the gray, muddy, nuance that doesn't elicit strong reactions but also doesn't have as clear a viewpoint.
Lainey, thanks. When I write on OS, I often adopt a persona that's a little bit removed from myself, if that makes sense. Sometimes, I do it to make a point, or because I think the piece will be funnier or more incisive or whatever it is I'm trying to do . . . with varying degrees of success. In real life, I see the world in many shades of gray, and if the shades of gray serve the writing, I use them; if they don't, I wind up with a piece like this one . . . not everyone's cup of tea, but I love the different voices and opinions on OS, and I appreciate your thoughtful comments.
I spawned four of the little bastards. I feel your girlfriend's pain.
Gwool, she's being double-teamed, and she knows it. Even at five, those boys have each other's back.
i had brothers. when i was pregnant (hardly planned), i prayed for a girl. had one, stopped at one kid. she was so wonderful, somehow i knew the odds for another like that would not be in my favor. life has proven i was right. really excellent piece, susan.
Femme, thanks. Girlfriend was hoping one of the twins would be a girl (they are fraternal). She loves the boys, but there is a big difference between boys and girls, and penis brandishing is just where it starts.
I cannot get over the fact that there is an Author Tag now for "penis brandishing." It makes my day.
Penny, well, you know, just in case anyone was searching "penis brandishing" . . .
hear hear! i've always felt about children the same way i feel about owning a llama, "that might be nice." happy to know i'm not alone!
Thanks, Audrey. I'd much rather have the llama.