Bragging Rights

8 Feb

For me, there’s nothing better than settling onto my chaise, my dog Charlie snuggled in at my hip, mug of coffee in hand and coming across an article in the Sunday New York Times that speaks to me. Bliss was found in the Styles section, the piece was about parents who brag too much.
The author, Bruce Feiler, wrote about how there’s virtually nothing mommy and daddy writers agree about when it comes to raising children, except that parents should must cease bragging about their kids.

He cites actual bragging examples: my daughter learned to read at 16 months; my son scored 12 goals at his soccer game; my daughter got into Brown, her first choice.
I don’t happen to agree with the last example. Now, if the parent goes on about how their darling turned down Stanford and Harvard, the hate bomb will go off.

Feiler also interviewed novelists and non-fiction writers on their take re: the bragging game. One of my favorites came from Brad Meltzer, who said that it was fine for parents to brag, it’s the how that is “the difference between murder and manslaughter.”
His example, to say: “My kid loves reading is fine. My kid is the best reader in the sixth grade” not so fine.

I  agree with the author that bragging should be done in the context of real life, not you trying to sell that you have a perfect life and kid.
For example, my daughter recently made the honor roll, having had three AP classes and a part-time job. I was insanely proud of her and when I told friends and relatives (and the woman standing behind me at ShopRite). I added: “Her first time in her high school career,” which is not completely true, but by saying so I earned a bragging pass.

It’s college acceptance season and in my hip, hot urban/suburban town the parks, markets, trains, buses are clogged with anxious moms (not many dads) going on and on about where Jake got wait-listed (Yale, Penn–poor thing).
And there are those shiny Wesleyan, Amherst, GW car decals on the  back windows of German automobiles.
For me, the calculus of what constitutes manslaughter and murder is uncomplicated.
When Gemma got into Berkeley, Cornell and NYU, I did a happy dance for her and her mom Lisa.  Gemma and my daughter were friends in pre-school together, but that was not why. I cheered for her because Gemma has dyslexia and Lisa has always been very opened about her daughter’s struggles. Gemma and her mother worked doggedly to succeed in spite of her reading disability. Context.

To help parents who struggle with bragging too much Feiler comprised a list:

1. Brag about how good a child you have, not what a good a parent you are

2. Brag about effort, not accomplishment

3. Brag in context (see above)

4. Laura Zigman, a novelist, says each boast should come with a negative, i.e. “my son made the honor roll, but he still wets the bed.”

I was at a neighbors’ Christmas party chatting with a woman whose  middle school son has a undiagnosed learning issue. After each comment about her son she said: “he’s very bright, but he’s very, very bright. He’s very bright.”
At first I was annoyed. Lack of self-awareness makes me want to claw something, but then I just stood there, counting and I soon found myself feeling sorry for her.

5. Don’t brag about something everyone else struggles with, like my kids love anything green–asparagus, broccoli, kale. Or my son has no interest in the X-box.
When my daughter was a baby she didn’t sleep through the night for two years. I used to feel murderous rage toward mothers who would beam: “Emma has slept though the night since she was six weeks old.”
Luckily for me and my son, who was born six years later–largely because our daughter didn’t sleep–was a good sleeper. I don’t think, however, that I ever recovered from those sleepless years.
Perhaps that’s why now, I always have a hate bomb handy.

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