In Solomon the Rusty Nail, William Steig’s eponymous hero considers the relative merits of confiding his extraordinary transformative abilities:
“His first idea was to show his family what a prize pazoozle of a rabbit he was.”
Of course he ends up deciding otherwise, randomly disappearing, and proud to be the cause of everyone’s bewilderment, but the novelty wears off – realistically, I think, since he has no one to share it with – until the day he crosses paths with Ambrose, a ravenous and professionally frustrated cat determined to make a stew of poor Solomon.
At least I think it’s a stew – “Hasenpfeffer” says Ambrose - and would be disappointed to discover otherwise. For years I have pictured Hasenpfeffer bubbling aromatically on my stove, and I have also come very, dangerously close to referring to myself and to others as prize pazoozles, before I stop and consider whether such verbal effulgence isn’t really worth all of the nervous laughter and mutual loathing it is likely to provoke. Awkward silence. Midnight calls:
“Hey, remember the other day? When you called me, um. You know.”
It takes daring, in other words, and time, and multiple modes of telecommunication, and probably a little drunkenness, still I think it’s a shame we leave most of our colloquial innovating to teenagers, and the people who invent them for TV. Of course we sound older sometimes for trying to sound younger, though I am convinced there remains a language we have yet to employ which better captures the moods and impolitic opinions of our generation of parents. And I worry about our disappearance into the language of self-improvement that by the time we finally figure out how to get thinner and richer and more famous, the people behind us will decide these weren’t particularly interesting tricks to begin with. If we want to change the conversation – now - then it’s probably wise to start with one or two words that have nothing to do with all of the infinite permutations of a cup of coffee. All you SAHD’s and WAHM’s and FTM’s and vaguely dispiriting acronyms – we can do better! At least let’s make up in numbers what we lack for nerve. So here’s the plan:
Read children’s books!
Steig especially. Don’t worry – he’s a grown-up illustrator too. Though you’d arguably find greater liberation in reading, then sometimes exclaiming: “Let us go-oleo!” like Mrs. De Soto in Doctor De Soto Goes to Africa.
Is anyone – or everyone – constantly inquiring after your health? Want them to stop? You could do worse than to quote the stricken little hedgehog in Rosemary Wells’s Felix Feels Better:
“Not feeling perkier.”
Now go forth, parents. And deploy. That’s Part One of the plan anyway, and for the rest I’ll be needing the services of exactly the sort of marketing genius who probably would have vetoed Part One. Of course that is the ugly-sad bargain of our consumer culture (ugly-sad – it’s a word!) especially when we’ve grown too old to resist it. And, lordy, we’re growing old fast. In it’s popular depictions, parenthood today looks more and more like those people in the Cialis ads than most of us care to admit.
I, for one, have no intention of going gently, though you probably will not see me frothing at the mouth, because that’s really part of the problem, isn’t it? We’re too polite. Again, to quote Felix (on pancakes):