Today’s question: Have the British always existed solely for the amusement of others?
Yes, they had their world-conquering phase, but it’s hard to imagine anyone taking these folks seriously — although I’m sure the rifles helped — when you consider a case like this one, which I’ll call by the Telegraph’s headline: Mums behaving badly.
I defy you to read that story and not giggle. Every detail is funny. The gist: Gina Ford, a leading British “childcare guru,” is threatening legal action against the British website Mumsnet, over personal remarks made against her character by users of the site. Ford is the author of “The Contented Little Baby,” which has sharply divided parents along fairly predictable lines — that is, those who believe in her methods of strict scheduling and “controlled crying,” and those who believe she advocates “strapping babies to rockets and firing them into south Lebanon.”
Mumsnet has suspended all discussion of Ford and her books, pending arbitration. Among the remarks Ford took issue with is one describing her as a “a fart-faced, rolly-fluff poo,” but you don’t have to read very far into the story to suspect this is about more than a few playground taunts. Any mother of a certain age and education level and, shall we say, type-A temperament will find herself nodding along with this:
But this is more than simply a battle between David and Goliath, it is every bit as much a revealing portrait of the curiously fraught phenomenon that is modern motherhood.
Both Mumsnet and Ford offer very different coping strategies to help those beleaguered professionals who have climbed the career ladder without raising a sweat, who have video-conferenced and multi-tasked with effortless ease, and yet find themselves utterly floored by the arrival of a single mewling infant. A report last week into ageing mothers revealed that the number of women giving birth aged 40 to 44 has doubled, to 23,459, in a decade, and that these mothers were “nervous wrecks” during pregnancy, not least because many of them had never held a baby before. No wonder childcare experts are hailed as the new spiritual gurus.
In an age when the idea of having extended family nearby has all the pinch-me-I’m-dreaming nostalgia of a Hovis advert, there’s something uniquely isolating about 21st-century childbirth. Which is why Ford’s diktats have such a wide appeal among women used to being in control, who may feel their only hope of clawing back some shred of sanity in those milk-drenched, sleep-deprived early weeks is to impose an hour-by-hour timetable on a tiny baby, worthy of a Soviet apparatchik.
Part of my delight in this story is my anglophilic love of British English, which seems so much more pungent than the Yank variety; “mewling” is simply a better word for the fuss a new baby makes than “crying,” which should be reserved for the fuss a new mother makes. And part of it is the happy relief I feel over being beyond this part of parenthood, which the author describes as “a sea of cracked nipples and confusion.” I remember when I would have had a strong, fervently held opinion on Gina Ford’s book, when I would have spent hours online and in mother’s groups arguing about it. It’s the nature of new-motherhood.
But mostly because it’s hard to read a phrase like “fart-faced rolly-fluff poo” and not giggle. It’s already in heavy rotation here at NN.C Central.
It was 6 degrees when I rolled out of bed this morning, which may contribute to my lack of interest in women who wear scanty clothing — I get cold just looking at them — but would someone with a better handle on scantily clad women explain the Pussycat Dolls to me? I know they have some horrible single that makes “My Humps” sound like Mozart, but what are they actually? Singers, dancers, media celebrities, something else? What they are at the moment is stars of their own reality series, but you can say that about pretty much everyone these days, can’t you?
The guy who killed his wife — known around here as Torso Man — was shipped back to Macomb County today. You don’t see jail outfits like this so often, but it’s a classic look, and I’m pleased it’s making a comeback.
Have an acceptable day. I’m off to noodle through yet another radio essay draft.
Kirk said on March 6, 2007 at 10:26 am
“a fart-faced, rolly-fluff poo”
that cracked me up to the point that people at adjacent desks once again are considering whether i might be bats. from a branch office of angst R us, thanks for that little gem
LA mary said on March 6, 2007 at 10:56 am
Having an in-house Brit, we hear a lot of this all the time. A favorite term for a wimp is a “big girl’s blouse,” I don’t know if this means a blouse for a big girl, or big as in big wimp, but it conjures an image of something billowy and polka dotted and not very brave.
We have unconciously adopted biccies for cookies and choccies for chocolates and trousers for pants and puss for cat, although my sons get nervous about that last one.
cce said on March 6, 2007 at 11:33 am
The British have such a nice way with understatement. I heard some policy wonk talking on NPR about the British withdrawing troops from Iraq. In his really great English accent he actually said, “There’s a bit of a row still going on there.”
A bit, really, you don’t say!
As for Ford’s book on child rearing, I’m so glad that my children have reached an age where I can stop reading parenting books…damage done, the stuff of future therapy and all that. What a relief.
Jen said on March 6, 2007 at 11:55 am
Here’s another source of charming British commentary on motherhood–a blog called Wife in the North launched when a family w/ three young childlren moved from London to the North of England, a project that the wife was not entirely enthusiastic about. http://www.wifeinthenorth.com/
A friend pointed out Wife in the North to me a while back, and I read it for a few days and did, indeed, find it charming. Still, I hadn’t read it for a while. When I looked it up for this post, I found that Wife had been offered a book contract for her reflections on mothering in an isolated place. Her blog started only on February 8, so you can read all the way from the beginning in not too much time.
It’s fun. Wife is a good writer with an appealing voice.
brian stouder said on March 6, 2007 at 12:26 pm
My experience has been that babies take over households; they make the schedules, and they swiftly and effectively react to deviations.
Toddlers are more manageable – but only just; and once they get to school-age – the games are truly ON!!
Cultural Alert: I learned just yesterday that the Toy Which We Must Have is “Webkinz”…which are apparently the 2007 version of Cabbage Patch Kids, wherein you “adopt” the cuddly little flub-dub.
But the update is – you do the adoption online (at the webkinz website, of course).
These things are not obtainable in Fort Wayne; they sell for a premium on ebay already, and Pammy has tracked down a few at a store in Logansport.
By way of saying – these are the things that adults assign value to as the young folks grow up….and – you read it here first!
ashley said on March 6, 2007 at 1:07 pm
6 degrees today? Whaddya bet I paid more for heat last month, in New Orleans, than you did in Detroit.
$358, just for gas. Not electricity, just gas. And no, it wasn’t that cold. It’s just antedeluvian rates.
LA mary said on March 6, 2007 at 1:55 pm
I saw you cited Chuck Taggart on your website. He’s a neighbor. Lives on the other side of my semi-funky hill.
alex said on March 6, 2007 at 7:37 pm
Speaking of the curiously fraught phenomenon that is motherhood, here’s another take on it with a curiously British sensibility:
Connie said on March 6, 2007 at 10:11 pm
Hey Mary and Ashley I am a big fan of Chuck Taggart’s website. Especially the food porn. And Ashley, meant to tell you how amazed I was to find your picture on Jeff the Librarian’s Library Chronicle web site, back at the beginning of football season. And what do Chuck, Jeff, and Ashley all have in common? NOLA.
ashley said on March 7, 2007 at 2:44 am
Will it go round in circles?
Mary, you live in Los Feliz? I think that was it.
I lived on, I believe 6th and Miramar for a while. I was catacorner from the SPNB Beaudry tower, behind the Pacific Stock Exchange. What a dump. Then, when between leases, I lived at the lovely Milner hotel. Before it was renovated. Weekly rates. Feh.
Then I moved to lovely Alhambra, and finally Naples/Long Beach. Much more tolerable.
LA mary said on March 7, 2007 at 11:10 am
I live in lovely Mount Washington, and I think Chuck lives on the border between Mount Washington and Eagle Rock, two doors away from my son’s girlfriend. Eagle Rock has become hip in the last couple of years, by the way.
Ricardo said on March 7, 2007 at 12:30 pm
Hip, oh yes! In 2003 I took the gold line (electric light rail) up to Flor y Canto to see a poetry reading. A friend from the internet came through with a bunch of her fellow Canadians to perform. Had to leave a little early to catch the last train back to Orange, my home. I worked in downtown LA atop the California Plaza at the time, short walk from the stock exchange.
In 1986, the company I worked for opened an office in Sherman Oaks, across from the Galleria. Our office neighbor and her baby son came over to say hi. Dr. Laura Schlessinger was just a local commentator then, but I knew of her. Her son was very interested in the dirt of the potted plants we were moving, and Dr. L and I had a discussion about why kids put dirt in their mouths. Of course, she was right and I was wrong. I get a kick out of hearing how child expert’s kids turn out to be awful adults. I wonder how Dr. Laura’s son turned out.
LA mary said on March 7, 2007 at 12:44 pm
Flor y Canto was in Highland Park, and was about a half a mile from Casa LA Mary. Next time wave as you go by. I live just uphill from the next Gold Line stop, Southwest Museum.
Dorothy said on March 8, 2007 at 3:08 pm
Jen thanks so much for the link to wifeinthenorth.com. I’m really enjoying reading her! Found out thru Google that her real name is Judith O’Reilly and she was offered 70,000 pounds for the book!
BTW the blog started on November 9, not February 8.
RollyFluff said on March 8, 2007 at 6:56 pm
Hello from a Mumsnetter! You should come and join us – we are mostly British but there are a few brave Americans in our ranks; just sign up at Mumsnet.com and dive into the seething waters!
Mumsnet is a fantastic online community, and we have accomplished some really super things as a group. At the moment we are raising money for cot death research via sponsored walks across the UK – go to http://www.amileformaude.com for details. We are trying to encourage people to donate to their local SIDS charity (http://www.sidsalliance.org is the US one) so please please spread the word.