Saturday, March 7, 2009

Bragging Rights

We’ve all been in the room with her.

She parades her baby around like a trained monkey. “Look,” she says to her captive audience hunched together on the couch, “She pounds her chest like a gorilla!” She turns to the baby. “I’m a gorilla, and I can thump my chest!” she models as her daughter squirms off to chew on a coaster, loathe to the task. “She doesn’t always do it when there are other people around,” the mother apologizes. So she moves onto the next trick, “She can identify herself in pictures!” She shoves a photo in front of the baby’s face singing, “Who is it?” The baby grabs at the picture and crumples it in her grasp. “I don’t know what’s with her today,” the mother mumbles, feeling her embarrassment. “Well, watch this…she just loves books,” she pulls out “Goodnight Moon,” which, she claims, her daughter can recite half of. The mother points to the moon and says, “Goodnight….” the sentence hangs in the air and every observing adult has the urge to complete it. “Bah!” says the baby. “Moon! IT’S MOON. You KNOW this,” says the exasperated woman. At this, the baby smiles.

This annoying woman is me. For some of you, this did not take much guesswork.

I guess when I do it, I don’t think of it as bragging, exactly. I’m just so excited about every new development I want to share it with the world. So listen to this, world—two days ago when Sophia pooped her diaper and I asked, “Sophia, where’s the poo?” she patted her behind! The kid’s a genius.

I wonder why my friends rarely brag to me about their kids. Do they think I wouldn’t care? (I would) Does it not occur to them to do it? (Possibly) Do they have much better self control? (Probably)

There’s really only one person I can brag to without feeling a little sheepish about it. (Bragging to Kevin doesn’t count, or, rather, doesn’t count as bragging as Sophie is as much a product of his genes and parenting as she is of mine. With Kevin, it’s more like… gushing. And gushing about Sophie is our number one topic of conversation these days. I admit—we’re disgusting. On the other hand, we’re far more tolerable than when we spoke this way about our cat.)

That person is my mother, who also has a bragging issue. When she’s having a cringe-worthy conversation with, say, the guy at the checkout counter of the 7-11, it’s as if she’s holding up a full-length, three-way mirror to me that betrays every unflattering angle:

“This is my granddaughter, Sophia. Sophia, can you say, ‘hi?’ Say ‘hi.’” (Brief pause for Sophia to oblige.) “Can you believe the way she’s talking at only 15 months? She (indicating me) talked early, too, of course, but not like this one.”

Mom,” I tug at her sleeve with the hand that is not wrapped around my baby.

“What? Can’t a grandmother brag a little about her baby?”

Can she? Does grandma have bragging rights? Do I? And if so, to whom?

This is one of the unspoken rules of parenthood that eludes me. Am I allowed to be proud? When does pride cross the line into arrogance? Am I provoking competition? Are my motives pure? Is bragging like sexual harassment—mattering less how it was intended than how it was received? How is it being received?

Do I really want to know?

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