Thursday, November 23, 2006


You know how sometimes people say things in code, as a way of saying something and thus fulfilling a social obligation, but managing to not explicitly saying what they really think? Like when faced with a friend with a truly ridiculous and tragic hairdo, you say "Wow! You got your hair cut." The trick is to state a fact in a positive enough tone of voice that a compliment is inferred but not actually articulated. If you hate the hairdo, you're not lying and saying you like it, nor are you rudely disabusing your friend of the notion that she looks like a cooler Joan Jett, updated for the new millenium.

Herewith some examples from our own family life.

"Your house really has character!"
As far as I can figure, this means, "your house is really (old | squeaky | oddly-shaped | weirdly renovated by seven separate owners) and I would thus never live here." We hear this a lot from suburban relatives and small-town relatives. Our house is in fact nearly a 100 years old, but more in an affordable-labourer-housing way than in a chic-Victorian-bourgeois-gingerbread way. And it squeaks, features weird angles and not-quite-square doors, and has indeed seen some interesting and not altogether coherent renos in its long life-span. We love it, but you can almost smell the disdain from those people (mostly relatives) who make this comment on our house. A variation on this theme from my mother: "Well, you'll be living here a long time ...", which means that surely the budget and fortitude for a proper reno will eventually tidy it all up.

"You're really in the thick of things here!"
This is another house comment, and this means "you live on a really busy street a stone's throw from downtown. Eww! The noise! The smells! The sketchy people walking by!" I think we'll have the last laugh here, as the abandoned factory our guest room overlooks is being overhauled into a chic loft / retail / office development, and a Starbucks just opened up a block and a half away from us. Sure the traffic is loud. I wear earplugs to bed, because our master bedroom overlooks the street. But I love walking everywhere with Miss Baby, and as she has a 2-hour wakefulness window, I'm grateful we can go out and be back in that timeframe. And it's really cool to watch all the joggers and foot-commuters and students troop past our house--it feels vibrant.

"You're so lucky to have a husband like Pynchon!"
Now, don't get me wrong: I feel very very lucky. I'm in love with a wonderful man who loves me back, understands how important my career is to me, who is truly enlightened about the skills and work of marriage, and who is almost entirely ego-free. But somehow, the inference is that he's some sort of gift dropped from the sky onto undeserving me--like we don't work at being lucky to have each other. Or that what he brings to our marriage--compassion, silliness, an even split of housework and childcare--is unusual and noteworthy. Naomi Wolf, in her book on pregnancy, wrote how, as a culture, we tend to congratulate the father who tends to a crying child during a dinner party, while if the mother were to undertake the same action, it would go unremarked. Interesting. Actually, I shouldn't complain about this. I really am lucky, no matter how you slice it. Word out to The Dada!

Ok. All of those I can decode. The one that has me stumped is what total strangers always offer about Miss Baby ...

"My! Is she ever alert!"
I would guess this is code for "your baby never sleeps", but how would they know that? If she's awake, she is, as a matter of course, alert, right? Perhaps this refers to the look of mischief she tends to manifest. The way she lifts her eyebrows really high, the better to crane her head out towards the world. It just freaks me out a little that the word everyone uses is 'alert'.

By alert, of course, you mean 'attuned to political happenings in my community, right?

Hey! You know what else they say?

"Wow! Look at her hair!"
I guess that kinda brings us back to where we started, eh? Teehee ...

The Mama forced me to do this ...

1 comment:

Alpha Dogma said...

Oooh, another Naomi Wolf reader! Misconceptions should be mandatory for all expectant mothers.

As the mother of bald headed boys, I often comment on baby hairdos. Out of jealousy.

And for me 'alert' is code for "your baby looks really healthy and happy and please let me assuage you of any paranoia because in my humble lay-person-worry-wart-opinion, she is developmentally on track."

I live in a early 70s bungalow in a town with only 10 house plans. Wanna trade? Please. You are living my dream lifestyle!