Saturday, 6 July 2013

Two parenting metaphors

What am I learning about modern parenting?

Two things.

1. Legoland — a metaphor for alienation.

2. Race for Life — a metaphor for frustrated ambition.

Let me explain.

Marx (and I paraphrase) felt that people were being alienated from the means of production of things like food and clothing. Instead they went to work in mines, cities and factories, were paid money and then had to commute home to give this money to their families, to pay for things. They seemed to be gaining autonomy, but were actually losing control over their lives. This was in the sense of the overall arc of those lives, their destinies (getting work started to depend on your education rather than, say, farming your own bit of land). It was also at the level of day-to-day human pleasure (growing your own tomatoes; making your own shirts). He thought this as England's green and pleasant land was overrun by factories during the 19th century. The rest of us called it the Industrial Revolution.

You can understand much of Marx by reading Dr Seuss's The Lorax. Or perhaps this is why my paraphrase is so fantastically loose.

What does this have to do with modern parenting and Legoland, I hear you snore?

Well, under late capitalism, i.e. in a era in which we support the banking sector to prevent social disintegration, without regulating the banking sector to prevent social disintegration, we have handed over control over all kinds of other aspects of our lives.

For instance: how to entertain ourselves.

We used to have hoops and sticks. Now we have (to have) Legoland.

Legoland is a realization of what we might otherwise imagine. It is the incarnation of something that could have remained fantasy, or child's play, had it not been built quite so solidly. Legoland, in becoming real, ends itself. To be real, Legoland would have had to remain insubstantial. In becoming bricks and mortar, it has entered the circulation of goods, and is simply another element of exchange, like Primark, Marks and Spencers ready meals, or The X Factor. It doesn't create desire for pleasure or play, it creates desire for itself. People want to go to Legoland, because Legoland exists, not because it's great, or soul-enlarging.

To go there requires military planning, advance ticket purchase, finetuning of exactly what time to arrive to "beat the crowds" (of other people — apparently you, a 'person', are different from all these other mere 'people'). It requires picnic transportation (or the risk of being ripped off). It requires either racing round all the attractions at top speed, regardless of enjoyment, or queuing for an hour a ride, regardless of enjoyment. Spontaneity, at Legoland, takes the form of, "I'll meet you in Miniland in 20 minutes, I'll take Jimmy to the shop, and you go to the toilets with Janey."

Legoland is like going to a casino. You pays your money, you plays the game. You cannot win.

And what of Race for Life? Leaving aside whether calling fundraising a 'war' is itself a viable metaphor, I found myself running up a hill with my ten-year-old daughter today, raising some money for cancer research. Or rather practically dragging the poor child along as she complained about the heat and a stitch.

Here's the dialogue in my head:

- For goodness' sake, slow down, the child's tired.
- Gotta get in front of the pink bottoms.
- It's not a real race, will you calm down?
- Can't stand being behind.
- If you give her space, she'll have another go in a minute.
- Wanna win.
- Don't be daft, the winner crossed the line 20 minutes ago!
- Why can't I just run ahead?
- Because you're running with your daughter, it's a special moment, you harpy!
- Does my bum look big in this lycra?
- Yes it does. You're 45, for heaven's sake. Let it go! Just be happy!
- I hate you.
- Well I don't much like you either.

I think you get the drift. EVEN AS we were 'in the moment', savouring quality mother-daughter time, what was I doing? Feeling frustrated that I couldn't run faster. That I wasn't 21. That I wasn't thinner, more gorgeous, more successful. WHAT ON EARTH IS WRONG WITH ME? We had a view over all London, the most beautiful day this summer, funky music, Hampstead Heath in all its shimmering glory, supporters, and lunch waiting for us.

Luckily I have a fantastic daughter who has long since worked out that her Generation X mother is to be pitied, not emulated.

May all her metaphors be better for it.

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